Nuclear Nonproliferation and SafetyConcerns With the International Atomic Energy Agency's Technical Cooperation Program Gao ID: RCED-97-192 September 16, 1997
In an effort to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency's technical cooperation program has since 1958 supplied equipment, expert services, and training to help member states establish and upgrade nuclear facilities. In the past, the United States and other major donor countries have raised concerns about the program's effectiveness and efficiency. The United States has contended that some projects were devoid of significant technical, health, or socioeconomic benefit to the recipient country. Most of the agency's program evaluation reports, internal audits, and project files that GAO reviewed did not assess the program's impact, and no performance criteria had been established to help measure the program's success or failure. The United States contributed about $16 million, or about 32 percent of the $49 million donated by member states to the technical cooperation fund in 1996. Because many member states are not paying into the fund, some countries, including the United States and Japan, are carrying the program financially. U.S. officials believe that the vast majority of the agency's technical assistance projects pose no risk of nuclear proliferation because the assistance is generally in areas such as medicine and agriculture that do not involve the transfer of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies. However, GAO found that the agency has provided nuclear technical assistance to Iran, North Korea, and Cuba--all countries where the United States is concerned about nuclear proliferation and threats to nuclear safety. For example, although the United States strongly opposes the completion of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant because civilian nuclear technology and training could help advance Iran's nuclear weapons program, the agency has earmarked about $1.3 million in technical assistance through 1999 to help Iran complete the plant.
GAO found that: (1) while the United States and other IAEA major donor countries believe that applying safeguards is IAEA's most important function, most developing countries believe that receiving technical assistance through IAEA's technical cooperation program is just as important; (2) the United States and other major donors principally participate in the program to help ensure that the member states fully support IAEA's safeguards and the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; (3) in the past, concerns were raised about the effectiveness and efficiency of the technical cooperation program; (4) most of IAEA's program evaluation reports, internal audits, and project files that GAO reviewed did not assess the impact of the technical cooperation program, and no performance criteria had been established to help measure the success or failure of the program; (5) for the past 5 years, IAEA's Deputy Director General for Technical Cooperation has been taking steps to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the program, but State Department officials are concerned about their sustainability; (6) the United States, historically the largest financial donor to the fund, provided a voluntary contribution of about $16 million, or about 32 percent of the total $49 million paid by IAEA member states for 1996; (7) for 1996, 72 of the 124 member states made no payments at all to the technical cooperation fund yet most of these states received technical assistance from IAEA; (8) officials from the Department of State, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations System Organizations in Vienna, Austria, told GAO that they do not systematically review or monitor all of IAEA's technical assistance projects to ensure that they do not conflict with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation or safety goals; (9) however, GAO found that U.S. officials had sporadically reviewed projects in countries of concern to the United States; (10) U.S. officials also told GAO that the vast majority of IAEA's technical assistance projects do not pose any concerns about nuclear proliferation because the assistance is generally in areas that do not involve the transfer of sensitive nuclear materials and technologies; (11) however, GAO found that IAEA has provided nuclear technical assistance projects for countries where the United States is concerned about nuclear proliferation and threats to nuclear safety; and (12) moreover, a portion of the funds for projects in countries of concern is coming from U.S. voluntary contributions to IAEA.Recommendations
Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.Director: Team: Phone: