Nuclear Nonproliferation and Safety:

Concerns With the International Atomic Energy Agency's Technical Cooperation Program

RCED-97-192: Published: Sep 16, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the purpose and effectiveness of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) technical cooperation program; (2) the cost of U.S. participation in IAEA's technical cooperation program; and (3) whether the United States ensures that the activities of IAEA's technical cooperation program do not conflict with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and safety goals.

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.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: H.R. 3743 was introduced in the House International Relations Committee to require this, as well as the other actions GAO recommended, by the Department of State. H.R. 3743 was passed by the House on August 3, 1998, by a vote of 404 to 13.

    Matter: To assist the Congress in making future decisions about the continued U.S. funding of IAEA's technical cooperation program, the Congress may wish to require that the Secretary of State periodically report to it on any inconsistency between IAEA's technical assistance projects and U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and safety goals.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: See comments on previous recommendation. The Congress also has acted on the recommendation regarding withholding a proportional share of its voluntary funds to the International Atomic Energy Agency for Cuba. Similar legislation is pending regarding Iran. When this legislation is enacted, GAO will close this recommendation.

    Matter: If the Congress wishes to make known that the United States does not support IAEA's technical assistance projects in countries of concern, as defined by section 307(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and related appropriations provisions, it could explicitly require that the State Department withhold a proportional share of its voluntary funds to IAEA that would otherwise go to these countries.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a June 18, 1998, a letter responding to the report's recommendations, the Department of State stated that it concurred with the recommendations and, as a result, had recently reformed the Subcommittee on Technical Programs and Cooperation, an interagency committee which evaluates proposed technical assistance projects by IAEA member states.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the U.S. interagency group on technical assistance, in consultation with the U.S. representative to IAEA, to systematically review all proposed technical assistance projects in countries of concern, as covered by section 307(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and related appropriations provisions, before the projects are approved by IAEA's Board of Governors, to determine whether the proposed projects are consistent with U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and safety goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its June 18, 1998, response to the report's recommendations, the Department of State further stated that when nonproliferation concerns about IAEA's technical assistance projects are identified, the United States will make these known to IAEA.

    Recommendation: If U.S. officials find that any projects are inconsistent with these goals, the U.S. representative to IAEA should make the U.S. objections known to IAEA and monitor the projects in these countries.

    Agency Affected: International Nuclear Technology Liaison Office

 

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