Last November, seven casks of highly enriched uranium almost leaked into the atmosphere, but the world was none the wiser thanks to American diplomacy efforts. Following a United Nations meeting in which he embarrassed himself, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who has emerged as a capricious and eccentric character prone to lustful favoritism, had a nuclear temper tantrum. Only gentle cooing from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and an $800,000 promise to remove Libya’s former weapons grade uranium could persuade him to allow Russia to gently lift and relocate the radioactive HUE.
Gaddafi insists, even in hotels, on pitching a Bedouin tent – ostensibly to stay in touch with his roots even in western societies. When this demand was made at the United Nations last year, he was prohibited from doing so. He also delivered a nonsensical two hour speech that was ill-received.
Humiliated, Gaddafi rescinded an agreement to dispose of Libya’s HUE stock, leaving instead seven five tonne casks of radioactive material attended by only one armed guard on the tarmac of the Tajoura nuclear facility.
The cables demonstrate that the American Department of Defense were deeply concerned that the HUE would heat up and then create cracks in the casks that were designed only for transport and not long-term storage, and a massive campaign to placate the irascible leader was mounted.
A message from US ambassador Gene Cretz said that “according to the DOE experts we have one month to resolve the situation before the safety and security concerns become a crisis,” the Guardian reports.
“Given the highly transportable nature of the HEU and the shoddy security at Tajoura any mention of this issue in the press could pose serious security concerns. We have to assume that the Libyan leader is the source of the problem,” he added.
Both Gaddafi and his aides were repeatedly warned of the environmental pressures that mounted as time passed and the HUE baked on the tarmac. American officials also advised that they at least disassemble a nearby crane – which terrorists could easily have used to pick up the nuclear prize in the dead of the night.
The crisis was not averted until weeks after Hillary Clinton sent a soothing memo and the Americans gave Gaddafi an ultimatum: either allow the Russians to take the HUE by December 18th, or find someone else to foot the $800,000 bill. He eventually conceded and Russia flew off with the illicit cargo away on December 21, 2009.
“America’s nuclear emergency team that oversaw the shipment reported that “the month-long impasse had taken a visible toll on Dr Ali Gashut, the head of the Libyan atomic energy establishment,” according to the paper.
:: story and image via The Guardian
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