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Libya Table of Contents


The Search for Nuclear Technology

In 1975 Libya had ratified the United Nations (UN) Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty signed by the Idris regime in 1969. In 1980 an agreement was reached with the International Atomic Energy Agency placing all of Libya's nuclear installations under international inspection. Despite these steps, in the mid- and late 1970s, Qadhafi repeatedly proclaimed his country's determination to acquire nuclear weapons, primarily because he was convinced that his archenemy, Israel, had achieved such a military capability.

Qadhafi sought help in obtaining nuclear technology from a number of countries, including the People's Republic of China. Among these efforts, the cooperation with Pakistan launched in 1977 seemed for a time to be producing material results. Libya appeared to be providing financial assistance and, later, deliveries of uranium "yellow cake" originating in Niger in the hope of eventually being compensated by weapons from Pakistan. However, in an interview with an Indian newspaper in March 1986, Qadhafi declared that Libya would never help Pakistan acquire an atomic bomb. He said: "We consider nuclear weapons production a great mistake against humanity."

A 10-megawatt nuclear research reactor supplied by the Soviet Union in 1979 was installed at a research center at Tajura near Tripoli staffed by 750 Libyan specialists and technicians. Many students were sent abroad; a group of 200 was studying in the United States until early 1983 when the United States proscribed training Libyans in nuclear science. Libya planned to buy a power station from the Soviet Union, but, dissatisfied with the technology involved, negotiated with the Belgian firm of Belgonucleaire to take over the engineering contract and supply much of the needed equipment. After the United States objected, fearing use of the equipment in weapons development, Belgium decided in 1984 to refuse the US$1 billion contract. Shortly thereafter, Moscow's commitment to construct an 880-megawatt power station to be located in the Surt region was reaffirmed. It was to cost over US$4 billion, with repayment to stretch over 15 to 18 years.

Libya had a theoretical capability of delivering nuclear weapons in the form of Scud and FROG missiles and missiles delivered by medium-range Tu-22 bombers. Suspicions that Libya was seeking to acquire a medium-range missile capability were aroused in 1980 when it was revealed that the West German firm, Orbital Transport-und-Raketen Aktiengesellschaft (OTRAG), had built a rocket-testing base in the Libyan desert. OTRAG, which had earlier been forced to give up a testing site in Zaire, claimed that it was working on a nonmilitary rocket to enable Third World countries to launch satellites cheaply.

Data as of 1987