The U.N. nuclear watchdog says in a confidential report it had found traces of high and low enriched uranium on Libyan nuclear centrifuges, as it found on identical Pakistani-made centrifuges in Iran last year.
The agency said on Friday there were a number of unanswered questions about Tripoli’s atom bomb programme, abandoned in December 2003, including “the sources of low enriched and high enriched uranium contamination found on gas centrifuge equipment in Libya”.
The uranium on the Pakistani-developed centrifuges, which Libya bought second-hand on a black market linked to the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, are also assumed to have come from Pakistan, diplomats familiar with the report said.
This would appear to add credence to Iran’s assertion that the bomb-grade uranium found on its centrifuges last year also came from the machines’ previous owners in Pakistan.
But one Western diplomat said the increasing similarities between Iran’s and Libya’s programmes undermined Tehran’s statements that its programme was purely peaceful.
The origin of the uranium traces remains one of the major unresolved issues in Iran’s nuclear programme, which the United States says is a front for a weapons programme.
The report said the existence of a global atomic black market, which is also known to have supplied Iran and North Korea, was crucial for Libya’s weapons programme.
“It is clear … that the existence of this procurement ‘network’ was of decisive importance in Libya’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the report.
In setting up the illicit network, Khan and scientists from his Khan Research Laboratories were aided by individuals from a number of countries, especially Buhary Syed Abu Tahir, a Sri Lankan businessman whom Malaysian authorities said on Friday they had arrested — ostensibly because of illicit atomic trade.
Other countries whose individuals or companies are long known to have helped Libya and other customers of the nuclear network include South Africa, the Soviet Union, Dubai and Japan.
The IAEA said it found no evidence that Libya had begun work on an atom bomb based on warhead designs Libya said it purchased in late 2001 or early 2002. These designs are believed to be of Chinese origin purchased from Pakistan.
But the IAEA said in the report that a university in Tripoli had “a research laboratory and associated equipment that would be of some use for supporting nuclear weapon related research and development”.
NO SAMPLES FROM PAKISTAN
In order to verify that enriched uranium contamination came from Pakistan — referred to in the IAEA report as the “supplier state” — the IAEA must “confirm this conclusion by taking and analysing environmental samples from that supplier state”.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said Islamabad has refused to let the IAEA take samples of its enriched uranium.
Centrifuges are used to purify uranium for use as nuclear fuel in power plants, or when very highly enriched, for bombs.
The U.N. watchdog said Libya had “provided prompt, unhindered access to all locations requested by the agency and to all relevant equipment and material declared to be in Libya.”
Libya has also provided clear answers to most of the IAEA’s questions, the report said.
“However, (they) have not always been able to provide supporting documents to augment their short December 2003 timeline” of Libya’s weapons programme. The IAEA said this limited its ability to fully verify Libya’s declarations.
The Libya report, written by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, said the investigation of Tripoli’s nuclear activities would continue and that the agency would submit another report on Libya’s weapons programme to the IAEA board in September.
The IAEA will issue a similar report on Iran next week.