IAEA report on Libyan nukes stuns the West

Thursday, March 4, 2004

LONDON Preliminary inspections of Libya's nuclear weapons developments have shocked western intelligence services.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that the scale of Libya's nuclear weapons program far exceeded assessments by the CIA, which concluded that Tripoli did not have the technical expertise to conduct a nuclear program.

The IAEA report determined that the regime of Moammar Khaddafy succeeded in separating plutonium and enriching uranium. Furthermore, the report continued, Libya accumulated a significant amount of technical knowledge regarding the key elements required for the production of nuclear weapons assembly.

On Tuesday, Libyan ruler Moammar Khaddafy acknowledged that he maintained a secret nuclear weapons program, Middle East Newsline reported.

The 10-page report by the agency asserted that Libya began its nuclear program at least 25 years ago.

Diplomatic sources who read the report said the IAEA has concluded that Libya was preparing to receive a uranium enrichment plant meant to produce fuel for the assembly of several nuclear bombs a year. They said Libya had purchased a complete facility, including gas centrifuges.

The IAEA, which inspected 18 sites, said Libya drafted plans to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. The agency said Libya ordered 10,000 gas centrifuges through the international black market headed by Pakistani government scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Khaddafy said his decision to dismantle his country's weapons of mass destruction program was based on what he termed national security interests as well as the high price for maintaining a WMD arsenal.

"Today, it becomes a problem to have a nuclear bomb," Khaddafy said in an address to the Libyan People's National Congress in the coastal city of Sirte. "At the time, it was maybe the fashion to have a nuclear bomb. Today, you have no enemy. Who's the enemy?"

The report, prepared for the agency's 35-member board of governors, said Tripoli procured a small set of gas centrifuges required for the enrichment of uranium. In addition, Libya acquired large quantities of high-test metals required to construct centrifuges.

The IAEA said Libya produced "very small quantities" of plutonium at the Tajura Nuclear Research Center. In addition, Libya also enriched small quantities of uranium.

The agency also determined that Libya began to conceal a nuclear program as early as 1978. At that time, Tripoli accumulated what turned out to be 2,263 tons of uranium ore concentrate. At the time, Libya reported the import of only 1,000 tons.

In 1985, Libya began to acquire uranium hexafluoride, a material required for the enrichment of uranium, the IAEA report said. In 1997, the Libyan government ordered 20 assembled centrifuges and components for an additional 200.

In September 2000, Libya ordered 10,000 centrifuges based on the so-called P2 centrifuge, the report said. Centrifuge components began to arrive in December 2002 and a German shipment of parts was captured in October 2003.

"Libya would have needed to do relatively little to assemble and start the centrifuges," the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said. "The priority now should be finding all the major suppliers to Libya's turn-key centrifuge plant and associated centrifuge manufacturing plant. In addition, authorities must ensure that any centrifuge components and designs are secured against resale."

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