UN official said Libya’s new rulers had found uranium yellowcake, partly refined uranium ore, which was a left over of the former regime’s nuclear programme.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to release the information, said the material was “slightly radioactive” but posed no immediate danger.
He didn’t know how much material had been found.
There are at least 10,000 drums with a total capacity of two million litres, though most have not been opened and checked for their contents. They are being stored not far from the central desert city of Sabha.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says it knew Col Muammar Gaddafi had stockpiled yellowcake uranium near Sabha ? a relic of the years when he tried to develop nuclear weapons.
?We can confirm that there is yellowcake stored in drums at a site near Sabha in central Libya,? the watchdog spokesman said. ?The IAEA has tentatively scheduled safeguard activities at this location once the situation in the country stabilises.?
After agreeing to dismantle the programme in 2003, Gaddafi was supposed to have given up all his nuclear technology. He was also supposed to have given up chemical weapons, but it is known he still had mustard gas awaiting disposal.
A WikiLeaks cable disclosed that two years ago he was trying to sell 1,000 metric tons of yellowcake on the world market. No one expected such a valuable commodity to have been left dumped in the desert.
Sabha is an important stronghold for Gaddafi, who spent part of his youth here, and many of the locals are from the Gaddafa tribe. Abdullah Senussi, his security chief, right-hand man and brother-in-law, is from a town 50 miles to the north of Sabha.
But the city was only lightly defended. A total of 12 rebels died in the fighting, with just one or two parts of the town resisting at all.
Having driven out the remnants of the Gaddafi forces towards the Algerian border, the rebel troops said they were ordered to secure former military bases ? a standard practice adopted belatedly to stop weapons stockpiles going missing.
They found the storage facility containing the radioactive drums totally unguarded. ?I don?t think it?s ever been guarded,? said Musbah al-Mangoush, an agricultural engineer from the town who escaped Gaddafi?s grip three months ago and returned as the head of a brigade of troops from Benghazi.
?This was a military base until the 1990s, but then it was abandoned. There was no one here.?
In neighbouring sheds are rusting trucks, old fuel tanks, and surface-to-air missiles covered in pigeon droppings.
It is not clear how long the material has been there.
Mohammed Othman, whose family owns a farm five miles further up the track away from Sabha, says soldiers were seen unloading trucks in the area a year ago. Mangoush, on the other hand, links the find to what he claims a high level of miscarriage and deformity in babies in the area, suggesting a long term presence.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the president of the provisional government, the National Transitional Council, said at a press conference on Sunday that a second find of toxic material had been made near the town of Waddan? believed to be mustard gas. ?There are weapons believed to be internationally forbidden, and they are under our control,? he said.
The United States previously said that Gaddafi?s yellowcake stocks were held at the town of Tajoura east of Tripoli and were ?secure?.
The real site is now guarded by half a dozen rebel troops.
Fighting has moved on to the border town of Ghat, leaving virtually all the south of Libya, with its important oilfields, in the hands of the rebels.
Of Gaddafi himself, there is no sign yet.
?Tell us if you find him,? is the most common response given by NTC officials when asked about his whereabouts.
The US ambassador toLibya, Gene Cretz, said Americans were worried about the proliferation of weapons that were missing from Gaddafi’s once vast arsenal. In particular, the US has sought to keep track of Libya’s unconventional weapons experts during the civil war.
Fighters from Misrata said in a statement that they are in control of chemical weapons near Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte ? one of the three areas where loyalists continue to put up stiff resistance. They said they are safeguarding any possible chemical weapons until the arrival of a UN team, which will oversee their transfer.
“We are looking for a peaceful country and we don’t want these kinds of weapons to stay in it,” the statement said.
On Monday, NATO warplanes struck several military targets in Sirte as Libyan anti-Gaddafi forces besieged the area in an attempt to wear down Gaddafi loyalists.
The alliance said it hit eight targets around Sirte on Sunday, including an ammunition and vehicle storage facility, a multiple rocket launcher and other military sites.
Rebel fighters have faced fierce resistance in efforts to take the city and the NATO airstrikes are softening up targets for a new push to capture Gaddafi strongholds of Sirte and Sabha.
Sources: Telegraph, CBSNews