Radioactive material found inside oil facility in Lebanon

BEIRUT (AP) — A German company has found dangerous nuclear material stored in an oil facility in southern Lebanon, officials said Friday.

The material has been stored at the Zahrani Oil Installation that is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Beirut, according to a statement released after a meeting by Lebanon Higher Defense Council, the country’s top security and military body. In its statement, the council quoted outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Lebanese authorities have been searching for hazardous material around the country after a deadly explosion in Beirut last year. The Aug. 4 blast of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrates, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, killed 211 people, wounded more than 6,000 people and damaged several Beirut neighborhoods.

During Friday’s meeting, Diab told other officials that the material found by German company Combi Lift, which Lebanon had tasked with clearing hazardous material at Beirut port, “is a highly pure nuclear substance” and its presence poses dangers.

“This matter should be discussed now and quick measures should be taken to deal with it with great concern,” Diab said in the statement. He spoke after meeting with the heads of all the country’s military and intelligence agencies as well as President Michel Aoun and the ministers of defense and interior.

In November, Lebanon signed a deal with Combi Lift to treat and ship abroad containers consisting of flammable chemicals found in the wreckage of Beirut’s port. Combi Lift completed the treatment of 52 containers of “hazardous and dangerous chemical material” and was ready to ship them outside the country, Germany’s ambassador to Lebanon said last month.

The deal between Lebanon and Combi Lift is worth $3.6 million, toward which port authorities in Lebanon paid $2 million, with the German government covering the rest.

The head of the installation in Zahrani, Ziad el-Zein, told the local Al-Jadeed TV that Combi Lift inspected the facility and found eight small containers that weigh less that 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) containing depleted uranium salts.

El-Zein added that the material has been stored at the facility since the 1950s, when it was run by the Mediterranean Refinery Company, or Medreco. Medreco was an American company whose main shareholders were Mobil and Caltex and it was active in Lebanon for four decades until the late 1980s.

Malte Steinhoff, a spokesman for Combi Lift in Germany, declined to give specific details on either the nuclear material or the chemical shipment.

Combi Lift, Steinhoff said in an email to The Associated Press, is currently in talks with the Lebanese government.

“This concerns possible salvage projects at the refineries in Tripoli and Zahrani,” Steinhoff added. “There are no concrete results yet. We do not want to comment on any findings.”

A document from the Zahrani Oil Installation that was posted by local media Friday said that the committee following up on the “chemical material” decided to move it to the laboratories of the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission.

The March 22 document warned that the Lebanese atomic commission will inform the International Atomic Energy Agency that it cannot store the material in Lebanon in accordance with international standards.

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Associated Press writer David Rising contributed to this report from Berlin.

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