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How close was Libya to the bomb? Did the U.S. exaggerate?

03/26/2004

Many of the readers of the IAEA's Feb. 20, 2004 report on Libya's nuclear program came away with the impression that it wasn't exactly on a path to great achievements when Col. Moammar Qafadi decided to trade it in for a measure of international statesmanship. (This was my own view.) But on March 15, during a press conference at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham seems to have sent a very different message, saying that Libya had handed over thousands of completed centrifuges of an advanced design, the so-called P-2 or L-2. This would be a very considerable stockpile.

Now it's not so clear that the official story holds up. This pattern is becoming a little too familiar.

The Oak Ridge press conference included a carefully constructed photo op. A grim-looking armed guard stands watch before a heap of crates. A few have been opened and artfully tilted back, each showcasing a pair of shiny metal cylinders with shiny metal stands, most of them wrapped in tubing. These are the centrifuges, we were meant to understand, and the other crates held many more. Look, but don't touch.

This helpful diagram, recently published in the New York Times, shows us what we're looking at. The shiny metal cylinder is the protective outer casing of the centrifuge, wrapped in water-filled piping for the regulation of temperature. A cutaway view shows the rotor tube, the part that actually spins to separate the different isotopes of uranium.

But the latest word is that there was probably nothing at all inside the Oak Ridge casings. According to the New York Times,

...the Institute for Science and International Security, based in Washington, said yesterday that the administration had given an inaccurate briefing to reporters last week at the Energy Department's nuclear weapons lab in Oak Ridge, Tenn. At that briefing, officials displayed a dozen uranium centrifuges from what they said was a cache of about 4,000 that Libya had obtained before agreeing in December to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The institute, which has done extensive research on uranium centrifuges, said its own inquiries, including interviews with federal and overseas experts, found that Libya had obtained 4,000 casings for centrifuges, but that few if any had the finely tooled rotors that are the machine's heart.

This is consistent with the IAEA report, which mentions only two completed centrifuges of the advanced P-2 or L-2 variety:
25. Libyan authorities stated that, in September 2000, Libya received two centrifuges of the type called L-2.... Libya stated that it had placed an initial order for 5000 centrifuges based on this design, and later extended this to 10 000 machines. The components were manufactured in another country and started to arrive in large quantities in December 2002. Out of the 10 000 centrifuges ordered, Libya had received a considerable number of parts, mainly casings, by the time of the Agency inspections in late December 2003. However, according to Libya, no additional rotors were included in the shipments.
Again, that's two L-2s, the rest "mainly casings." And "no additional rotors."

The consequences aren't as high this time. But once again, the Bush Administration seems to be hallucinating aluminum tubes.

Analyst

My earlier comments on Libya's nuclear program are here and here.

My very different take on Iran's nuclear program is here, along with links to previous items.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000236.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 07:36 AM CST [Link]

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Replies: 1 Comment

I've been hearing about Lybia's nuclear program for over a year on the John Loftus segment of John Bachelor's WABC radio show (770 AM). Loftus discusses only "open source" information. This is it in broad strokes: The Bush administration has been trying to break an Arab nuclear consortium involving--from memory--Libya, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, North Korea and China. Libya provided the location, a hollowed mountain in which 408 Iraqi nuclear scientists were employed. Saudi Arabi provided funding, North Korea and China provided missile technology. The deal: Arab countries get the bomb and the Asian countries get oil. There were two sources for the consortium. One, Pakistan published an intercepted communication between North Korea and Libya in which the Koreans lamented the possibility that Heusein could no longer pay his scientists if the US ousted Heusein. Two, Prime Minister Sharon, in 2001, made a public statemenet that Libya would be the first Arab country to get the bomb. The Iraqi nuclear scientists in Libya is documented, according to Loftus. The US could either use a nuclear bunker-buster to destroy the Libyan mountain, send a special-ops mission or invade Iraq. Relevant documents have been found in Iraq and delivered to Qaddafi--with the desired effect; And, we've had recent revelations involving Iran and Pakistan. If all this is true, then exposing the consortium was much more important than Iraqi's non-nuclear wmd and Al Qaida.

http://www.john-loftus.com/

Posted by scherado @ 04/06/2004 07:14 AM CST


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