July 26, 2006

More nuclear fuel removed from Libya, US says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three more kg (6.6 pounds) of
weapons-capable highly enriched uranium have been removed from
Libya, bringing to 20 kg (44 pounds) the total put under
international control since the country abandoned its nuclear
arms program in 2003, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

The recent two-day operation was carried out by Russia, the
U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security
Administration and the U.N. watchdog agency, the International
Atomic Energy Agency.

"Libya's cooperation and commitment was key to this joint
nonproliferation effort. It is a clear indication of Libya's
continued commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass
destruction and proliferation-sensitive materials," Linton
Brooks, the U.S. agency's administrator, said in a written

A U.S. spokesman said an initial 17 kg (37 pounds) of
highly enriched uranium, or HEU, was removed from Libya in 2004
but was not previously announced.

The latest shipment was part of a process to remove all
Russian-origin HEU material from Libya. The U.S. agency did not
say how much was left.

A report on Monday by the Libyan news agency quoted leader
Muammar Gaddafi as saying Libya at one stage came close to
building a nuclear bomb, the first time any Libyan official had
confirmed the North African country had been trying to build a
nuclear bomb.

One U.S. official who deals with nonproliferation issues
told Reuters the claim was "not credible.

Libya possessed nuclear material but not enough expertise
to complete the job. "I don't think Gaddafi was close," the
official said.

At Libya's Tajoura Research Center, the HEU was loaded into
three specialized transportation containers provided by Russia,
while U.S. and IAEA experts monitored the process.

The containers were airlifted under guard from an airport
near Tripoli, Libya, to a secure facility in Russia where the
HEU will be blended into low enriched uranium, or LEU, which is
less suitable for weapons production.

The operation was part of the U.S. global threat reduction
initiative to secure vulnerable nuclear and radiological
materials around the world as quickly as possible. In all, some
189 kg (416 pounds) of HEU have been returned in 13 shipments
to Russia from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Latvia,
and the Czech Republic, as well as Libya.

In December 2003, Libya said it would abandon its weapons
of mass destruction programs and allow international
inspections. The move helped the OPEC oil producer repair
relations with the West after decades of estrangement.

The United States said in May it would restore formal ties
and take Libya off the list of countries deemed state sponsors
of terrorism.