Using technology and know-how acquired through the black market, Libya was able to process uranium into plutonium, the U.N. nuclear watchdog says.
Diplomats citing a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday the country was able to “separate a small amount of plutonium.”
The report did not specify the amount, but it appeared to be less than the approximately three kilograms (nearly seven pounds) required to make a nuclear bomb.
The report was prepared by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei ahead of a board of governors’ meeting of the agency next month. A separate report on Iran is due in the next few days.
Revelations in the confidential report that Libya was able to process plutonium, which is used in nuclear warheads, shed new light on how far the country was able to progress in its secret weapons program.
Libya announced in December it had engaged in researching programs of mass destruction and promised to scrap them. While U.S. and British intelligence had spoken of a fairly advanced program, the IAEA initially described Libya’s nuclear activities as at the beginning stage.
The report also said Libya “imported nuclear material and conducted a wide variety of nuclear activities which it had failed to report,” to the agency as required by agreements it had signed with the IAEA, according to the diplomats who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Much of the activity focused on enriching uranium, the report said. That — along with producing plutonium — is one way to develop the nuclear material used in warheads.
Between the early 1980s until the end of 2003, “Libya imported nuclear material and conducted a wide variety of (clandestine) nuclear activities,” said the report.
Libya “failed to declare imports of UF 6” in 1985, 2000 and 2001, the report said. UF6 is a uranium compound used in the enrichment process.
A Sri Lankan businessman, Buhary Abu Syed Tahir, who is implicated in the nuclear black market, has said that Pakistani scientist Abdul Qaheer Khan, the head of the illicit network supplying rogue nations with nuclear technology, had told him of shipments to Libya of UF6.
After coming out in the open in December, Libya also surrendered drawings of a nuclear warhead to U.S. and British experts. The blueprints and accompanying documents are now in the United States under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Diplomats recently told the AP that the drawing detailed how to build a warhead for a large ballistic missile, using technology developed by the Chinese in the 1960s that triggers a nuclear blast by a small conventional explosion.