Energy Dept. Displays Libyan Nuke Equipment

Libya paid at least $100 million for the nuclear weapons equipment it got from a Pakistani scientist's underground network, a White House official said Monday.

U.S. officials displayed some of the equipment for the first time, claiming its seizure as a victory in the fight against weapons of mass destruction.

Libya bought the gear — including a design for a nuclear warhead and centrifuges to separate weapons-grade uranium — from a network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan (search).

"The Khan network's finances were deliberately complex, and we do not have a complete picture," said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Bush administration's National Security Council (search). "The developing picture, however, indicates that the Khan network received at least $100 million for supplying technology, equipment and know-how."

Monday's display included a dozen of the aluminum casings that would have enclosed high-speed centrifuges to separate weapons fuel from ordinary uranium hexafluoride gas. Guards armed with M-4 assault rifles flanked the display and encircled the tent where officials showed off the haul.

The equipment was part of a shipment of 55,000 pounds of gear the United States flew out of Libya in January, after Muammar al-Qaddafi (search) agreed to give up his country's nuclear weapons program.

Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, admitted this year he sold such equipment to Libya, Iran and North Korea, but Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf immediately pardoned him.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (searchsaid the 50 crates of equipment represented a breakthrough in the fight against the spread of nuclear weapons.

"All of the ingredients were available for a weapons program," Abraham said. "Happily, this equipment is no longer in Libya."

The Bush administration is trumpeting its success in Libya as it continues to face criticism for not finding any weapons of mass destruction Bush said Iraq was stockpiling before the U.S. invasion last year.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (search), said in Washington that his agency also deserved credit for disarming Libya.

"The Libyan program has been dismantled under the agency's inspection, under the agency's supervision" and with U.S. cooperation, ElBaradei said.

"I hope it is regarded as a good model of a country that has decided to move away from weapons of mass destruction. We need to see that to be the beginning of a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction and at peace — and same with Africa."

Abraham said the United States took 4,000 of the centrifuges from Libya, which he said was seeking up to 10,000 of the machines. A uranium enrichment facility that large could produce enough nuclear material each year for several nuclear weapons, Abraham said.

Libya had installed only a few of the centrifuges and never tested any with the uranium hexafluoride Khan's network also supplied them, U.S. officials traveling with Abraham said.

Libya's uranium hexafluoride contained less than 1 percent of the radio isotope needed for weapons. The centrifuges are used to concentrate the weapons-grade material.

Al-Qaddafi publicly gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs in December under pressure from the United States and Great Britain. U.S. and allied agents seized a ship carrying thousands more centrifuge parts bound for Libya in October.

U.S. experts also discovered Khan's network had provided Libya with detailed designs for a relatively crude but workable nuclear weapon. The designs apparently were based on a Chinese weapon tested in the 1960s and later leaked to Pakistan.

Libya was years away from making enough highly enriched uranium, let alone making a bomb with it. But experts say the case was troubling because Khan's network had provided Libya — a country on the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors — all the tools it needed to make an atomic bomb.

The first shipment flown out of Libya included some of the most sensitive items in Libya's nuclear inventory, including three canisters of uranium hexafluoride gas (search). A ship carrying 500 tons of cargo, including most of the rest of Libya's nuclear weapons equipment, is scheduled to dock at a North Carolina port later this month.

All of the Libyan nuclear gear is being held and examined here at the Energy Department's Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. The high-security facility makes and dismantles components for thermonuclear weapons.