Libya Adds New Pieces to Its Nuclear History

By Crail, Peter | Arms Control Today, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Libya Adds New Pieces to Its Nuclear History


Crail, Peter, Arms Control Today


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a report Sept. 12 indicating that Libya did not provide a full picture of its past nuclear fuel cycle procurement efforts following its renunciation of nonconventional weapons in December 2003. The omissions, however, did not point to any attempt to maintain a weapons-related capability and were only important for uncovering the timeline of Libya's contacts with the nuclear smuggling network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan and other avenues Tripoli pursued to obtain nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the agency has concluded its investigations into Libya's former nuclear weapons programs. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated in a Sept. 22 statement to the agency's 3 5 -member Board of Governors on the status of verification efforts that the IAEA "is now able to implement safeguards in Libya in a routine manner."

Heralding Libya's reversal on its nonconventional weapons programs as a model to be followed by other countries, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi Sept. 5. She told reporters the same day that the shift in U.S.-Libyan relations "demonstrates that when countries are prepared to make strategic changes in direction, the United States is prepared to respond." She was the first secretary of state to visit Tripoli since 1953.

Libya Provides New Information on Procurement

The Sept. 12 report suggests that Libya initially did not fully disclose to the agency all of its procurement efforts for technology needed to develop nuclear weapons. It states that, since the agency's last report on Libya's nuclear programs in August 2004, the IAEA received "additional informa- tion" regarding Libya's efforts to acquire fuel cycle technology. Specifically, this additional information related to efforts by Libya to obtain gas centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment earlier than it had previously admitted and design information it received related to nuclear fuel fabrication and plutonium reprocessing.

Uranium enrichment and spent fuel re- processing are the two paths that might be taken to develop a nuclear weapon. Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the fissile isotope uranium-235 in uranium hexafluoride gas to low levels to power a nuclear reactor or high levels for potential weapons purposes. Reprocessing allows the separation of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel for use in nuclear weapons or reactors.

Although the remaining elements of Tripoli's nuclear program were dismantled and removed by the United Kingdom and the United States in 2004, the IAEA has continued its efforts to piece together the history of Libya's clandestine nuclear acquisition efforts.

Earlier Contacts With Khan Network

In regard to Tripoli's centrifuge procurement efforts, the agency highlights that Libya's contact with the Khan nuclear smuggling network began about a decade earlier than previously admitted. According to a February 2004 IAEA report, Libya initially told the agency that it made a decision in 1995 to "reinvigorate" its nuclear activities and pursue a uranium-enrichment program with Khan's assistance. …

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