On Wednesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) informed members of the United Nations that about two-and-a-half tons of uranium have gone missing in Libya, heightening concerns about nuclear security.

On Tuesday, safeguards inspectors from the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog visited the site in Libya where the uranium is stored. IAEA reported that “10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of uranium ore concentrate were not present as previously declared at a location in the State of Libya.”

“Further activities will be conducted by the agency to clarify the circumstances of the removal of the nuclear material and its current location,” said IAEA.

The site where the uranium is stored is reportedly not under government control and requires “complex logistics” to reach the site.

While refining uranium requires significant time and resources, each ton could yield 12 pounds of weapons-grade material. This possibility makes the recovery of the missing uranium an urgent priority.

“The loss of so much uranium oxide, commonly known as yellowcake, is a huge concern, though it is not highly radioactive,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the United Kingdom’s and NATO’s chemical, biological, and nuclear defense forces.

Bretton-Gordon reported that the uranium, which is likely in a powder form, “could be enriched for nuclear power purposes to around 20% or nuclear weapons-grade to around 90%.”

The former commander added that “this is not a trivial process and would need a highly advanced processing system to do this.”

“However,” he warned, “we know that Iran and North Korea are working hard at this.”

“This is not ideal material for a dirty bomb, but it could be used to spread low-level contamination over a wide area,” Bretton-Gordon said. “We know both Russia and ISIS have discussed dirty bombs recently.”

Scott Roecker from the Nuclear Threat Initiative reported that the uranium was taken from a very remote location is southern Libya, where there are “lots of ungoverned areas.”

Roecker suggested that it was “stolen by someone who wants to make a profit,” instead of being made into a type of nuclear weapon.

It is currently unclear when the uranium went missing and who could be responsible for its disappearance.

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