Damien Glez

The day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that several tonnes of natural uranium had disappeared, the Libyan National Army claimed to have found it.


There are certain events that are highly symptomatic of a country’s situation. There are also national transitions that make any satirical treatment derisory since the facts themselves contain all the elements of a wry comedy scenario. Post-Gaddafi Libya is not short of exhibitions that navigate between tragedy and burlesque. On 15 March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that about 2.5 tn of natural uranium had been missing from a Libyan site in the Sebha region since the previous day.

According to Director General Rafael Grossi, UN inspectors searched in vain for 10 containers of the concentrate known as “yellow cake” at a location indicated by the Libyan authorities.

In Vienna, a Western diplomat describes the risks associated with this disappearance of uranium as “limited but not negligible”. Even though this is a matter of nuclear safety, this episode is reminiscent of someone who no longer remembers where they left their glasses.

Gaddafi’s atomic temptation

Libyan General Khaled al-Mahjoub, commander of the communications department of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, quickly explained that the personnel in charge of monitoring the site were required to stand at a certain distance from the uranium, due to the lack of radiation protection.

On Facebook, he eventually posted an image showing 19 blue barrels and announced that the containers had been found about “five kilometres from the depot towards the Chadian border”.

The comical situation unfolds: a “Chadian faction” allegedly stole the merchandise “believing it to be arms or ammunition” and then abandoned it like rubbish. Although everything is officially “under control”, fears abound of chaos in Libya. The IAEA says it is “actively seeking to verify” the information.

The adventures of these containers demonstrate the difficulty in ensuring the protection of such sensitive sites in Libya, which have been in the grip of confusion since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the “guide” who was once tempted to develop atomic weapons.

Not only are two rival Libyan camps fighting for political legitimacy from the east and west, but several factions from neighbouring countries – Chad and Sudan – have made the southern part of the country the ideal place to set up their rear bases.

The UN has been waiting since 2021 for presidential and legislative elections to be held.

The IAEA has been concerned about the deterioration of the storage conditions of the “yellow cake” barrels since 2011.

Considering the size and weight of the barrels, the agency had ruled out that these materials could be… stolen.


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