Libyan centrifuges could have produced several nukes per year

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The United States has removed 4,000 centrifuges from Libya, enough to develop several nuclear bombs a year.

In an assertion that revealed the scope of Tripoli's nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials said the 4,000 centrifuges were part of 23 metric tons of equipment removed from Libya in January. The centrifuges were meant to enrich uranium in a process usually reserved for the production of nuclear weapons.

"All of the ingredients were available for a weapons program," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said. "Happily, this equipment is no longer in Libya."

The number of Libyan centrifuges cited by Abraham contrasts sharply with an initial report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei said in January that about 100 centrifuges were found and they did not comprise any significant nuclear weapons capability, Middle East Newsline reported.

Abraham led a U.S. government tour for reporters of the Energy Department facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. on Monday. The department's Y-12 facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory which conducts energy research and development contains the nuclear weapons material retrieved from Libya over the last two months.

The energy secretary said Libya's 4,000 centrifuges out of 10,000 centrifuges sought by Tripoli were enough to comprise a nuclear weapons program. He said any uranium enrichment facility with that number of centrifuges could have produced enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons annually.

The centrifuges, described as an advanced Pakistani model, were not shown during the tour for journalists. Officials also kept from seeing a blueprint obtained by Libya on how to assemble nuclear warheads. Officials said Libya paid $100 million for the centrifuges and other components in its nuclear weapons program. They said the money was paid to the nuclear smuggling network headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Abraham identified aluminum casings that would have enclosed Libyan high-speed centrifuges to separate weapons fuel from ordinary uranium gas. He said the 4,000 centrifuges found in Libya were separate from the capture of a German ship bound for Tripoli in October 2003 and which contained thousands of additional centrifuge parts.

Officials said Libyan scientists and technicians were trained at Hashan, a uranium-enrichment facility in Tripoli. They said hundreds of scientists and technicians were being prepared for the task of enriching uranium and assembling components for nuclear weapons.

"The program was much more advanced than we assessed," U.S. National Security Council official Robert Joseph, responsible for the White House's counter-proliferation policy, said. "It was much larger than we assessed."

Officials said that virtually all of the most dangerous elements of Libya's nuclear weapons program were shipped to the United States in January and March. The first shipment flown out of Libya included three canisters of uranium hexafluoride gas, regarded as among the most sensitive items in Libya's nuclear program.

Another ship, this time carrying 500 tons of cargo, contained the rest of Libya's nuclear weapons equipment. Officials said the ship was scheduled to arrive at a North Carolina port in late March.

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