Libya’s Gaddafi close to acquiring nuclear weapons in Africa, US security experts say
On Apr 30, 2019
The former late president of Libya, Col Muammar Gaddafi was already pursuing the acquisition of a nuclear regime before his “undemocratic” government was overthrown by anti-government forces in the country, United States security experts have disclosed.
The Gaddafi regime, according to experts on security matters said, had violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), but after this was leaked and checked by the United Nations Security Council, Libya, it was said, renounced its clandestine nuclear programme in late 2003, but the country later sought to establish a nuclear power infrastructure for electricity production, seawater desalination, and the production of medical isotopes.
Thereafter, as gathered from the security experts, in 2004, the US and the United Kingdom dismantled Libya’s nuclear weapons infrastructure with oversight from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), after the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in Libya, on December 19, 2003, agreed to eliminate all materials, equipment, and programmes aimed at the production of nuclear or other internationally proscribed weapons.
These disclosures came, during series of discussions a set of African journalists who had embarked on a media tour programme of the US and South Korea, sponsored by the United States Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, had with experts in the US foreign policy towards North Korea on denuclearization of Korean Peninsular, on their arrival in Washington DC, on Tuesday, April 23, 2019.
As gathered, after Gaddafi’s death, Libya’s nuclear power aspirations remained in the research and development stages and was unclear how the outcome of the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the toppling of the Gaddafi regime would affect the future direction of the country’s nuclear programme.
But the Libya’s late leader, Col Gaddafi, had, according to a published report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington D. C.-based organisation had admitted that, in contravention of its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Libya had pursued a nuclear weapons programme, this offensive, it established between 1968 to 1990 it ran through the illegal initiative.
Reports said, while still under the rule of the pro-Western King Idris, Libya signed the NPT in July 1968. Even though Idris was overthrown in a 1969 coup led by the Revolutionary Command Council headed by Gaddafi, Libya ratified the NPT in 1975.
However, many reports indicated that Gaddafi, whose rise to power was partly driven by resentment over the 1967 defeat of the Arabs by Israel, began seeking a nuclear weapons capability shortly after taking power and adopting a strong anti-Israel stance.
An account given by the security experts said, owing to Libya’s relatively low level of technical development, its nuclear efforts focused on foreign suppliers, and in 1970, for example, Libya reportedly made an unsuccessful attempt to purchase nuclear weapons from China. And in 1978, Libyan agents allegedly tried to buy nuclear weapons from India.
There are also many reports of nuclear dealings during the 1970s between Libya and Pakistan. These allegedly involved Libyan assistance to Pakistan in acquiring access to uranium ore concentrate from neighbouring Niger in return for Pakistani nuclear assistance to Libya.
However, it remained unclear whether these dealings laid the basis for later Libya-Pakistan nuclear cooperation remains unclear. but according to reports, “evidence released by the IAEA in 2004 suggests that during the 1970s and 1980s, Libya decided to pursue both the uranium- and plutonium-based pathways to nuclear weapons.
Steps were also said to have been taken in the 1970s to gain access to uranium ore, uranium conversion facilities, and enrichment technologies that together would have enabled Libya to produce weapons-grade uranium.
“This activity was conducted covertly and in violation of IAEA safeguards. Libya pursued foreign supplies of uranium ore concentrate (UOC), for example,” reports said.
Other reports indicated that during the 1970s, Libya imported 1,200 tons of UOC from French-controlled mines in Niger without declaring it to the IAEA, as required by the NPT, but it later admitted to the IAEA in 2004 that it had actually imported 2,263 metric tons of uranium ore concentrate from 1978 to 1981, while Gaddafi only declared the import of 1,000 metric tons. The remaining 1,263 metric tons were thus not subject to IAEA safeguards and could be used in covert nuclear activities, reports said.
Reports also said Libya worked to acquire uranium conversion facilities, which would have enabled it to convert the UOC to a form more suitable for enrichment. In 1982, Libya attempted to purchase a plant for manufacturing uranium tetrafluoride from the Belgian firm Belgonucleaire.
US analysts had in a report suspected that the intended use for the plant was to produce uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for a centrifuge uranium enrichment programme like that pursued by Pakistan. At the time, Libya had no declared nuclear facilities that required uranium tetrafluoride, and the purchase was refused.
This refusal, however, did not discourage Libya, which in 2004 admitted to the IAEA that it had acquired a pilot-scale uranium conversion facility in 1984. The IAEA report did not, however, identify the country that supplied Libya with this facility. The plant was fabricated in portable modules in accordance with Libyan specifications.
Libya, it was said, received these modules in 1986, but then placed them in storage until 1998. Libya has also admitted that during the 1980s it conducted undeclared laboratory-scale uranium conversion experiments at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Centre.
Along these same lines, Libya has now reported exporting several kilograms of UOC in 1985 to a “nuclear weapon state” for processing into various uranium compounds. Libya subsequently received a variety of compounds back from the state in question, including 39 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride. At the time, this export was also not reported to the IAEA by either Libya or the nuclear weapon state.
The IAEA report does not name the nuclear weapon state involved in this transaction, but David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security said the Soviet Union and China were the most likely suspects, although he added according to reports that, “I think it’s hard to know, It was a time when people weren’t scrutinizing these things very carefully.”
Libya also sought uranium enrichment equipment and technology during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1973, Libya tried to purchase 20 calutrons to enrich uranium from the French company Thomson-CSF. The deal, apparently supported by top company officials, was blocked by the French government because of the obvious proliferation risk of exporting enrichment technology to a non-nuclear weapon state.
Later, in the 1980s, a “foreign expert” began a research and design programme at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Center in Libya aimed at producing gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment. The “foreign expert” was reportedly a former employee of a German firm.
However, Libya had, according to reports, told the IAEA that by the time the “foreign expert” concluded his work in 1992, Libya was not yet able to produce an operating centrifuge, and no centrifuge experiments involving nuclear materials had been conducted. However, Libya had acquired technical expertise useful for the next stage of centrifuge development and design.
According to the IAEA, after the German expert left, the uranium enrichment program lost momentum and was not reinvigorated until after 1995.
As another way to build its nuclear expertise, however, Libya also pursued “peaceful” cooperation with the Soviet Union, under IAEA safeguards. The main result of Soviet-Libyan nuclear cooperation was the completion in 1979 of a 10MW research reactor at Tajoura. This reactor offered Libya the opportunity to explore plutonium production technology, which Libya did while evading IAEA safeguards intended to detect such activities.
Between 1984 and 1990, Libya produced several dozen small uranium oxides and uranium metal targets, a number of which were irradiated in the Tajoura reactor to produce radioisotopes. Thirty-eight of these targets were dissolved, and the radioisotopes extracted in hot cells. Libya has reported to the IAEA that very small amounts of plutonium were extracted from at least two of the targets.
Presumably, the data gathered in these experiments would have proven useful if Libya had decided to pursue plutonium production more actively.
Libya made efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to buy a reactor larger than the one at Tajoura. In 1976, negotiations were held between France and Libya for the purchase of a 600MW reactor. A preliminary agreement was reached, but strong objections by the international community led France to cancel the project.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Libya discussed the construction of a nuclear power plant with the Soviet Union. At one point, the Belgian firm Belgonucleaire was in discussions to provide engineering support and equipment for this proposed project, but in 1984, US pressure led the firm to refuse the contract.
Discussions with the Soviet Union about power reactor projects continued but never produced a final agreement. By the late 1980s, Libya’s nuclear program began to be hampered by economic sanctions prompted by Gadaffi support of terrorism. In 1986, for example, the United States imposed economic sanctions on Libya, which were later expanded in 1992 and 1996.