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Lebanese Govt. Warns “Dangerous Nuclear Chemicals” Found In Beirut

Cynthia Lorraine Silva Staff Writer
Published on March 31, 2021
Lebanese Govt. Warns “Dangerous Nuclear Chemicals” Found In Beirut
Foreign Policy Lebanon

Just last week, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab revealed that experts found “dangerous nuclear” chemicals in a southern oil facility, eight months after the devastating blast that had killed over 200 individuals. 

How A German Company Made The Discovery

Diab claimed that experts uncovered “dangerous chemicals” at a warehouse at the Zahrani oil installations. The discovery was made by the German company Combi Lift. Following the explosion in Beirut in August 2020, they were assigned to clean up the hazardous material.

Lebanon’s atomic energy authority also confirmed that chemicals were radioactive. The Defense Council claimed that depleted uranium salts were stored in eight oil canisters weighing 1.2 kg (2.7 lb). In addition, the authorities also reassured that the chemicals will be immediately transferred to safe storage. 

“This matter should be discussed now and quick measures should be taken to deal with it with great concern,” the country’s Prime Minister said as he appealed for action. However, Diab did not provide additional information regarding the recently discovered chemicals. 

According to a report from Reuters, a spokesman from Combi Lift stated “We don’t want to comment on possible finds.” The media outlet also claimed that the German company might work on other recovery projects in Lebanon including Tripoli and Zahrani refineries. 

The Lebanese And German $3.6 Million Deal

The Lebanese government struck a $3.6 million deal with Combi Lift in November to help clean up the wreckage from the blast. The deal also includes the treatment and shipment of containers that contain flammable chemicals. Currently, the German company had treated and shipped 52 containers outside of the country. 

In a statement, Zahrani, Ziad el-Zein, the head of the oil installation facility claimed that since the 1950s, the canisters were already stored inside the warehouse. He believed that the chemicals originally belonged to an American company called Mediterranean Refinery Company (MEDRECO) which held decades-long operations in Lebanon. In fact, some of its shareholders include the big names in the oil industry such as Mobil and Caltex. 

The discovery was a part of the authorities’ search for explosive materials in connection with the August blast. According to Lebanese officials, 3,000 tons of the highly explosive chemical, ammonium nitrate, was the primary cause of the explosion.  Ammonium nitrate is commonly used as fertilizer. 

The Collateral Damage

The damage from nuclear chemicals is never small. The blast had killed over 200 people, injured 6,000, and had left nearly 30,000 residents homeless. The impact was so severe that it had almost stripped Beirut’s port.