News24

Experts warn of Libya dirty bomb

2011-08-24 19:14

Vienna - A research centre near Tripoli has stocks of nuclear material that could be used to make a "dirty bomb", a former senior UN inspector said on Wednesday, warning of possible looting during turmoil in Libya.

Seeking to mend ties with the West, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi agreed in 2003 to abandon efforts to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons - a move that brought him in from the cold and helped end decades of Libyan isolation.

A six-month popular insurgency has now forced Gaddafi to abandon his stronghold in the Libyan capital but continued gunfire suggests the rebels have not completely triumphed yet.

Olli Heinonen, head of UN nuclear safeguards inspections worldwide until last year, pointed to substantial looting that took place at Iraq's Tuwaitha atomic research facility near Baghdad after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

In Iraq, "most likely due to pure luck, the story did not end in a radiological disaster," Heinonen said.

In Libya, "nuclear security concerns still linger", the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in an online commentary.

Libya's uranium enrichment programme was dismantled after Gaddafi renounced weapons of mass destruction eight years ago. Sensitive material and documentation including nuclear weapons design information were confiscated.

But the country's Tajoura research centre continues to stock large quantities of radioisotopes, radioactive waste and low-enriched uranium fuel after three decades of nuclear research and radioisotope production, Heinonen said.

Low probability

Refined uranium can have civilian as well as military purposes, if enriched much further.

"While we can be thankful that the highly enriched uranium stocks are no longer in Libya, the remaining material in Tajoura could, if it ended up in the wrong hands, be used as ingredients for dirty bombs," Heinonen, now at Harvard University, said.

"The situation at Tajoura today is unclear. We know that during times of regime collapse, lawlessness and looting reign."

A so-called dirty bomb can combine conventional explosives such as dynamite with radioactive material.

Experts describe the threat of a crude fissile nuclear bomb, which is technically difficult to manufacture and requires hard-to-obtain bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, as a "low probability, high consequence act" - unlikely but with the potential to cause large-scale harm to life and property.

But a "dirty bomb", where conventional explosives are used to disperse radiation from a radioactive source, is a "high probability, low consequence act" with more potential to terrorise than cause large loss of life.

"There are a number of nuclear and radiological materials at Tajoura that could be used by terrorists to create a dirty bomb," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a director at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA on the Tajoura facility. A document posted on the IAEA's website said it was a 10MW reactor located 34km east of the Libyan capital.

The Vienna-based UN agency has been involved in technical aid projects in Libya, including at Tajoura.

Heinonen said Libya's rebel Transitional National Council would need to be aware of the material at Tajoura. Once a transition takes place it should "take the necessary steps to secure these potentially dangerous radioactive sources".

Fitzpatrick said the looting that occurred at Iraq's Tuwaitha centre "should stand as a lesson for the need for nuclear security precautions in the situation today in Libya."

Comments
  • slg - 2011-08-24 19:20

    This is a real danger. I have no doubt Nato is aware of it and, together with the Rebels, are searching for these resources that include Mustard Gas.

      marco - 2011-08-24 20:51

      Do none of you people in South Africa get any of the Arab tv channels or what?Gaddafi Comical Ali has just reappeared.He`s popped up on Syrian Television just watch and see for yourselves.Al Jazeera news channel is showing Gaddafi green flags going up in his compound again and Gaddafi soldiers in the compound are fighting again.Unbelievable or what!!!!Sky reporters on the ground seem to have stopped reporting and the BBC is still showing this mornings headlines of yesterday's Rebel celebrations-how pathetic.Alex Crawford is not heard of or seen from since this morning.Sky news is filling time with guests,how sad is that. I am serously beginning to think some of these so-called journalists are on the payroll of NATO.I mean the one-sided commentary is laughable...newsagents,dis-info,intelligence services the works...this is not news it is contrived propaganda.

      slg - 2011-08-25 04:59

      Dream on Marco

  • gizzy - 2011-08-24 19:43

    The dirty bomb called gadaffi?

      Cynical_BStd - 2011-08-24 20:36

      Congrats to Obama the first US African president to invade an African country

  • Met - 2011-08-24 19:56

    The contents of a dirty bomb is spread all over SA. Its called the ANCYL!

  • vegetarian - 2011-08-24 19:58

    This dirty transitional goverment does deserve a dirty bomb treatment, if only they can target their cabinet gatherings and ensure that there is no collateral damage in human form.

      slg - 2011-08-25 05:10

      Give it up, sore loser. Millions of Libyans are celebrating. Join in!

  • Louis - 2011-08-24 20:07

    does this mean we are going to get a gazillion investigion teams searching through Libya for the next 6-8 years to find the WMD before someone finds Ghadaffi in a hole in the ground....eish

      Cynical_BStd - 2011-08-24 20:35

      WMD is a further excuse for Western occupation which will take place in the form of "peace keeping" forces to protect oil interest while the country will be plunged into civil war just like Iraq and Afghanistan

      slg - 2011-08-25 05:09

      Thanks for the heads-up Cynical. :)

  • nickwes - 2011-08-24 20:51

    Good thing that the UN have now alerted Al Qaeda and every other terrorist organisation to the fact that this facility exists!

  • marco - 2011-08-24 20:51

    Do none of you people in South Africa get any of the Arab tv channels or what?Gaddafi Comical Ali has just reappeared.He`s popped up on Syrian Television just watch and see for yourselves.Al Jazeera news channel is showing Gaddafi green flags going up in his compound again and Gaddafi soldiers in the compound are fighting again.Unbelievable or what!!!!Sky reporters on the ground seem to have stopped reporting and the BBC is still showing this mornings headlines of yesterday's Rebel celebrations-how pathetic.Alex Crawford is not heard of or seen from since this morning.Sky news is filling time with guests,how sad is that. I am serously beginning to think some of these so-called journalists are on the payroll of NATO.I mean the one-sided commentary is laughable...newsagents,dis-info,intelligence services the works...this is not news it is contrived propaganda.

      slg - 2011-08-25 05:03

      Marco, you're relying on the broadcasting network of a totalitarian regime and calling the freer world's information propaganda. It's the other way around.

      Ingwe - 2011-08-25 07:05

      slg don't worry about marco he gets like this when he stops taking his meds, just ignore him. At lease he managed to post a comment without being abusive, Sadly for marco being abusive is normally the only way he can put his point across, if you can call what he says a point.

  • George - 2011-08-25 08:17

    Iran and North Korea must never renounce their chemical and nuclear stockpiles. The West wait for you to dismantle your nuclear and chemical capability, then they attack. Look at Libya and Iraq. Both Libya and Iraq were sweet talked into renouncing their weapons of mass destruction, no sooner had the ink dried, bombs started to rain in their capitals and cities. The west would never attack a country which has an unacceptable casuality retaliation capacity. Just look at North Korea, it attacks and kills South Korean sailors, it wont be attacked because when it retaliates the damage could be more than the west bargained for. If you give up your deterrent capability, then blood flows in your cities. That is why the US will never give up its nuclear weapons.

      Ross - 2011-08-25 08:45

      It is a pity that the apartheid government dismantled the nucleur bombs the Boere built 30 years ago. If the ANC had these bombs in their arsenal we would have been a country of note.

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