Jeffrey LewisSite F near Sabha


I have been sort of amused that one news outlet after another keeps sending reporters to Site F near Sabha, where the Libyans store their stockpile of uranium yellowcake.  CNN, Daily Telegraph, Reuters.  Am I missing anyone?

Anyway, I figured I would post the coordinates of the site: 27° 4’0.10″N, 14°34’18.62″E

I was able to make a high confidence match based on the Reuters video (above).  Watch the pavement configuration closely, then notice the three hills visible over the southern wall (which is to the reporter’s left as he enters the compound.)  Those two white buildings are the site in question.

Here is my favorite picture from inside, taken by photographer David Rose:

There are also some nice details that confirm the location — Richard Spencer, writing in the Daily Telegraph refers to rusting vehicles in the sheds.  Well, I don’t know about in the sheds, but I see rusting vehicles.  In a 2003 image (left), the vehicles are scattered around the site and construction is not completed. (In 2003, Libya is ending its WMD program.) In 2004 (center), the vehicles all lined up neat and pretty.  In 2011 (right), the vehicles are still parked in the same locations — seven years of baking in the hot Libyan sun.  That will ruin your car’s paintjob.


So, what to do with 1,000 metric tons of U3O8? Uranium isn’t particularly dangerous in the form of yellowcake — unless you frost it and then serve it at a birthday party.

The Qadhafi Government committed to sell the yellowcake as part of its abandonment of WMD programs, but a leaked (NSFW!) January 2009 State Department cable from a meeting between the Secretary of Libya’s Atomic Energy Establishment and the US Embassy in Tripoli revealed that Libya was waiting for the price of uranium to go up.  And waiting.  And waiting.

These things always take longer than one expects.  Remember Iraq, the country we invaded before the smoking gun was a mushroom cloud?  The US eventually arranged for the sale of Iraq’s stockpile of 550 metric tons of yellowcake to CAMECO, but the uranium didn’t leave Iraq until July 2008.  Anyway, I am sure that there are smart, dedicated people who are planning the fastest way to remove this material.  But let’s just keep in mind that there isn’t even a Libyan government in place right now and any future government will, presumably, seek fair market price for what is, after all, a natural resource.  (The Iraqis were to get $76 million for their stockpile, although a pair of leaked cables detail the back-and-forth between Iraq and the US over a missed delivery date that may have cost Iraq a substantial portion of the expected proceeds. Warning: Wikileaks 1|2.)

In the meantime, I leave you with my favorite bit of yellowcake humor from the Chapelle Show.  This is in no way, shape or form safe for work, either.



  1. John (History)

    This may be a bigger cause for concern in Libya, although the date of the alleged Iranian involvement is conveniently missing….and the article again hypes the underwhelming IAEA report:

  2. Olli Heinonen (History)

    The uranium ore concentrate stock of Libya should be higher , ca 2260 tons as reflected in the IAEA reports from 2004. A couple of months ago the IAEA announced that inspectors will soon visit Libya to confirm nuclear material inventories. Hopefully this has already been done.

  3. Harry (History)

    The major problem, lurking behind the possible acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power, is: where will it end?

    It will not end.

    Once Iran has a 10 kT Uranium device, it will start looking for a 1MT thermonuclear device, if they are not doing so already with enhanced fission fusion warheads.

    The horizon, as seen by Israel, becomes very narrow, once themonukes get into the picture. I am sure this is a separating, if not a fissuring issue.


  4. Harry (History)

    Dear John, Amy, I have read the Politico thing.

    Why does one think it is neccesary to defend the Iraniam nuclear project? Are you dumb? (Sorry do not intend to go into ad hominems, but this is what I think).

    Even when the Irianians are legally enriching to 19.75%, can anyone explain to me why they would be doing this without a need for weapon grade uranium? They can buy the stuff at less than 1% of their total investment in nuclear technology.

    Really, it is absurd what they are doing. Casting 100 ths of millions at the production of nuclear fuel, using the worst imaginable technology? No technology to have the fuel clad with the proper zirconium cladding? Building a heavy water plant, a heavy water reactor close to it for the irradiation of medical isotopes? Are you all craving mad? (Sorry, personal opinion).

    You may be right legally speaking, but you will have to admit that the suspect is acting suspisiously.

    There are two possible outcomes:

    1: In ten years time, you will prove that Iran was peaceful in its intentions;
    2: Within ten years time, Iran will prove that its intentions were not peaceful.

    I challenge you both to show me how we can be sure that 1 is the case, without having 2.


    • Amy (History)

      Dear Harry,
      I think both the Politico piece and the Bulletin piece are not “defending the Iranian nuclear project” but laying out what is legal and what is fact vs. what would be desirable so that we may have a rational discussion — a novel concept at times in Washington.

      I too think there is cause for concern in the case of Iran (or was, pre-2003, at least) but the concern we feel in our bellies does not necessarily automatically make what Iran is doing illicit or illegal.

      Dan Joyner had a good piece on this a week or so ago. So it is good to get facts straight.

      Iran may be stockpiling 19.75% U in case its supply gets bombed — of which there have been a few threats. I have no idea. And really it’s none of anyone’s business so long as it is not diverted to a nuclear weapons program (which currently does not exist).

      The IAEA does not exist to police those states we are concerned about. If you know what Iran is doing now that is not in accordance with its CSA please do let us know.

      While I don’t agree with everything in there, I think the Politico article set out an excellent bargain: get Iran to ratify the AP in exchange for dropping the sanctions. In fact, while I agree with the author, I think Iran would be generous in so doing since they have no legal obligation to ratify the AP.

      Re. the Bulletin piece, while I have enormous respect for Greg Thieleman at ACA, I think it is a bit rich to suggest that the media was fanning the flames when the IAEA report went out of its way to ignite the issue with gasoline and cast Iran in a hyper-negative light mostly based on activities before 2003 and suggestions and innuendo!

      I am shocked — shocked I say — that the media would react the way it did.

      So, to answer your question: the IAEA is not the instrument to make sure Iran does not weaponize since it does not have the legal authority to do so. Perhaps you could set out to re-negotiate Iran’s CSA to help in this endeavour. It may well be that Iran weaponzies in the future. The best way to stop it from doing that is to remove threats of violence and to engage with it diplomatically and also get rid of all the other nukes in the world.

      It certainly is not by imagining that the IAEA is endowed with powers it is not.

    • Amy (History)

      PS: Harry, You may be interested to watch the opinion of a former IAEA inspector — fascinating:

    • John (History)

      one way to maybe get progress would be if the IAEA also reported the NWSs to the UNSC for not living up to their NPT obligations for disarmament. Of course there is the problem that the NWSs states are the UNSC…. 😉

  5. Harry (History)

    Dear Amy,

    You seem to prefer to tackle the Iranian question as an academic exercise in law an lawfullness. I personally consider it more of a life vs death match. You are behind your desk, my family is exposed to the weapons of these lunatics.

    This is not academic speak, this is about mass murder. And that you proclaim that there is no program in Iran for the construction of an atomic bomb, is solely your personal opinion. Once you are proven to be wrong, it is too late…

    • John (History)

      I’ll let Amy speak for herself but my response is that you and your family should do whatever they feel like to protect themselves from the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program — join the IDF if you feel that will help you and your family. Join the Israeli Cyber brigade if that gives you a good feeling. Write to your congressperson or Knesset member.

      The IAEA is there to assist, but only to the extent provided for by the exact legal instruments you appear to mock.

      Did you feel threatened by the non-existent Iraqi WMDs also?

      Sovereign states can do whatever they feel like doing bound only by the international legal instruments they have ratified.

      On your fear, I see that the Economist had a possibly relevant piece — Amy posted this in a prior thread:

      “It seems to me that the American and Israeli obsession with Iran’s nuclear weapons programme proceeds from a misguided messianic-apocalyptic streak in both countries’ political cultures. There’s a temptation to imagine the world of foreign policy as a broad extension of a Robert Ludlum novel: a desperate time-constrained race to stop evil madmen from committing atrocities. This vision is morally clarifying and inspiring. But it has little to do with reality, and it distracts the public from the actual challenges of foreign policy, which are usually messy and often involve actual sacrifices in order to achieve publicly valuable goals. Of course, in both America and Israel, distracting the public from real international challenges that might necessitate sacrifices to achieve public goals is part of the point.”

    • Amy (History)

      I am sure many families in Iran are worried about the Israeli nuclear weapons and lunatic leaders like Bibi and racist Liberman. I heard there are 900,000 widows in Iraq as a result of the US war inspired, in part, by AIPAC.

      Let’s count: Iran has attacked no-one. Israel has attacked Syria, Lebanon and Gaza in as many years.

      Maybe the well-informed Iranian families worry that the new US Nuclear Posture Review leaves open the possibility of nuclear war specifically against Iran, among NNWSs?

      There’s tons of worry in the world, amigo. That’s why many states weaponize.

  6. Harry (History)

    Dear Amy, John,

    I agree with you about your comments. But I have to face a single truth: if I am right, bad things will happen. Have a look at this:

    Have a close look at the upper picture.

    What did strike me is the following, apart from the utter destruction:

    Have a very close look. You will see the (shadows of) poles for the HT supply of this compound in the lower right corner. Now have a look at the main circumfence pathway. What do you see? Shadows of even higher poles, surounding this site. What would be their function? Illumination? Why so high, they are generally higher than the highest former building on this site. Their regular spacing suggests a completely differrent purpose: they were there to prevent the slippery of electromagnetic signals.

    Please, your useful comments on thes observations.


  7. Harry (History)

    Or is it intended to safeguard lightning strikes? It would look similar, but suggests that inside this compound experiments with high explosives are being conducted.

    A reason more to have a look at this site.

  8. John (History)

    There may well be things of concern in Iran, including tall evil things to prevent the “slippery of electromagnetic signals”.

    Be that as it may — it is none of the IAEA’s business unless a connection to nuclear materials diversion is made, or a proof positive of nuclear weapons manufacture is established.

    There was a good piece in IHT about Iran:

  9. Harry (History)

    Dear John,

    It may be that the IAEA does not have anything to do with it. The things are there, they are not logical,explain? You are arm waiving, trying to distract?

    • John (History)

      Dear Harry,
      I apologize. I suppose what I am asking is what you would like to do about your concerns with Iran?

  10. Harry (History)

    Have a look at this, and see where things converge:

    Systems using up to 25 modules have been developed at VNIIEF. Output of 100 MJ at 256 MA have been produced by a generator a metre in diameter composed of three modules.

    Where did we see VNIIEF mentioned?


    Who believes in such coincidences is, in my opinion, naive.

    • John (History)

      Thanks. So Iran is jumping straight to EMP weapons? Is that the issue? Without ever testing a nuclear weapon.

      What would you like to do about it?

  11. Harry (History)

    Dear John,

    I am just connecting the dots. And a pattern is emerging. Whether you believe that this is serious or not, does not really matter to me. We have North Koreans and Persians working at the institute I am working at. These are very smart people. I would advise to take them seriously. They have the capability to come up with a non nuclear EMP device. The Russian research I referred to is 40-50 years old. In the meantime, some progress could have been made in this area, do’nt you think?