OpinionIran in the World PressPicking up mullahs' nuclear tab

Picking up mullahs’ nuclear tab


ImageWashington Times: American taxpayers helped fund Iran's nuclear program over the past decade, and now the State Department "strongly opposes" diminishing the flow of U.S. money to the international agency that funneled the aid to Iran. The department fears – among other things – that doing so would "anger states in the developing world."

The Washington Times

How U.S. taxpayers helped pay for Tehran's nuclear program

By Terence P. Jeffrey


ImageAmerican taxpayers helped fund Iran's nuclear program over the past decade, and now the State Department "strongly opposes" diminishing the flow of U.S. money to the international agency that funneled the aid to Iran. The department fears – among other things – that doing so would "anger states in the developing world."

The offending organization is the International Atomic Energy Agency's Department of Technical Cooperation (TC), the mission of which is to help nations develop "peaceful" applications of nuclear technology. The State Department provides about 25 percent of the IAEA program's $80 million annual budget.

From 1997 through 2007, the Government Accountability Office said in a March 31 report, TC provided $55 million in aid to four nations – Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba – that the State Department lists as sponsors of terror.

TC assisted Iran's light-water nuclear reactor project at Bushehr. Its secretariat also initially approved assistance for Iran's heavy-water nuclear-reactor project at Arak, but the proposal was aborted later in the face of U.S. objections.

Iran's heavy-water project at Arak is a more direct nuclear-proliferation threat than the light-water project at Bushehr because the Arak facility would produce plutonium that could be reprocessed for use in a nuclear bomb. The Bushehr light-water reactor project, however, is itself an indirect nuclear-proliferation threat.

"For example, 'nonsensitive' technology associated with the design and operation of civilian light-water power reactors might prove useful to countries seeking to design and build a plutonium production reactor," the GAO report says. "TC projects providing such technology might therefore raise proliferation concerns. Other 'nonsensitive' skills and expertise that states acquire through TC assistance might provide basic knowledge useful to weapons, such as radioactive materials handling, familiarity with chemical processes and properties of nuclear materials, and use of various instruments and control systems."

The GAO report says the State Department confirmed that TC aided Iran's development of the light-water reactor at Bushehr. "Regarding Iran," GAO said, "State reported in 2007 that three TC projects in that country were directly related to the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr."

The department also told Congress in a 2007 report that technology transferred to Iran by the U.S.-funded TC for the Bushehr project would not have been transferred directly to Iran from the United States or its allies because of export controls designed to stop nuclear-weapons proliferation.

My own review of TC's annual reports – available on the IAEA Web site – indicates TC has helped the Iranians with development of the Bushehr reactor since at least 1995. TC's 1995 annual report says: "As a consequence of Iran's decision to revive the Bushehr [nuclear power plant] with the WWER-1000 technology, technical assistance was requested on safety issues such as seismic site studies, plant safety features, quality assurance (QA) and project organization. Outside experts prepared comprehensive reports and recommendations that were sent to Iran for review. A sizable manpower development program on nuclear power safety and applications was initiated in support of the above activities."

TC's 2000 annual report says TC was training Iranians in running nuclear power plants: "Implementation of projects relating to the safety of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) and the strengthening role of the National Regulatory Authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran made progress during the year. The highlights included special training courses on quality assurance; establishment of a program and a conceptual document on a personnel training system; the standards and procedures at the operating organization level; and training workshops for the implementation of configuration management."

TC's 2004 annual report says it sent 99 "international experts" to Iran that year and also trained 24 Iranian fellows and scientific visitors. "Each year, about 1,600 individuals around the world are granted fellowships by the TC program, allowing them to pursue specialized nuclear studies at universities, institutes and other facilities outside their home countries," the GAO's report explains.

The TC eventually denied assistance to Iran for development of its heavy-water reactor at Arak, but only after the United States complained about the proposed aid. "Iran asserted that the reactor was intended for the production of medical isotopes, and the proposal was approved for funding by IAEA's Secretariat," the GAO said. "However, as a result of objections by the United States and other nations, the [IAEA's] Board of Governors ultimately did not approve this proposal."

After investigating TC, the GAO said it was considering recommending that Congress require the State Department to cut funding to the organization in an amount proportional to the funding TC provides state sponsors of terror, including Iran.

In a written response to GAO, the department adamantly opposed the suggestion. All aid to TC "is fungible," the response said, "therefore, this proposed recommendation would not necessarily stop IAEA TC projects in the targeted countries but instead diminish overall [Technical Cooperation Fund] funding. By targeting the entire TCF, the U.S. will anger states in the developing world."

We will now see whether President Obama and Congress accept the State Department's reasoning and continue to provide U.S. tax dollars to an international agency that funded Iran's nuclear program.

Terence P. Jeffrey is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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