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Terence Jeffrey / April 15, 2009

How U.S. Taxpayers Helped Pay for Iran’s Nuclear Program

American taxpayers not only helped fund Iran’s nuclear program over the past decade, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, but the State Department now “strongly opposes” diminishing the flow of U.S. money to the international agency that funneled the aid to Iran because 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), whose mission is to help nations develop “peaceful” applications of nuclear technology. About 25 percent of the TC’s $80-million annual budget is provided by the U.S. State Department.

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

TC assisted Iran’s light-water nuclear reactor project at Bushehr. And its secretariat also initially approved assistance for Iran’s heavy-water nuclear reactor project at Arak, but the proposal was later aborted 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,” said the GAO report. “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 said State confirmed that TC aided Iran’s development of the light-water reactor at Bushehr. “Regarding Iran,” said GAO, “State reported in 2007 that three TC projects in that country were directly related to the Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr.”

State 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 that are designed to stop nuclear-weapons proliferation.

My own review of TC’s annual reports – available on the IAEA website – indicates that TC has been helping 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 NPP (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 sizeable manpower development program on nuclear power safety and applications was initiated in support of the above activities.”

TC’s 2000 annual report said 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 said it had sent 99 “international experts” to Iran that year and had 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,” explained the GAO’s report.

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,” said the GAO. “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 State 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, State adamantly opposed the suggestion. All aid to TC “is fungible,” said State, “therefore, this proposed recommendation would not necessarily stop IAEA TC projects in the targeted countries but instead diminish overall TCF (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.


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