<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile U.S. commission questions IAEA's competence as world's nuclear watchdog

U.S. commission questions IAEA's competence as world's nuclear watchdog

Wednesday, December 17, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

WASHINGTON The International Atomic Energy Agency has lost its ability to detect nuclear proliferation, according to a bipartisan Congressional commission.

The Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism said the United Nations agency was straining to keep track of emerging national nuclear programs.

The report found that IAEA lacked the resources and mandate to detect and prevent nuclear proliferation.

"The IAEA is constrained in serving as the world's nuclear watchdog because its staff is aging and its budget has increased little over the past decade," the report, titled "World at Risk," said.

The commission, mandated by Congress, issued its report in November 2008, in wake of the IAEA decision to fund a nuclear energy feasibility study for Syria. Syria, whose alleged nuclear facility was bombed in 2007, has been criticized by the agency for lack of nuclear transparency.

IAEA, the report said, has lacked the "clear authority to secure nuclear materials and install near-real time surveillance at the sites it inspects." The agency has failed to institute automatic default penalties for states that fell short of full compliance with their safeguards or other Nuclear Proliferation Treaty obligations, the report said.

"No review has been conducted recently to determine whether the IAEA needs to update definitions such as how much material is needed to make a bomb and how much time is needed to divert this material and convert it into bombs," the commission said.

The IAEA, hampered by lack of budget, has been forced to rely on contributions from member countries, including the United States. The report said the agency's financial difficulties would likely worsen.

"Because of this, the IAEA now faces uncertainties about its long-term ability to perform its fundamental mission detecting the illicit diversion of nuclear materials and discovering clandestine activities associated with weapons programs," the report said.

"In the past 20 years, while the amount of safeguarded nuclear material usable for weapons highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium has increased by a factor of 6 to 10," the report said, "the budget for safeguards has not kept pace and there actually fewer inspections per safeguarded facility than before."

The report said IAEA must expand efforts to monitor an increasing number of national nuclear programs. The agency would be required to ensure that civilian nuclear programs could not produce weapons.

"New nuclear facilities will have to be carefully monitored to ensure that no nation uses peaceful activities as a cover for a secret nuclear weapons program or for diverting weapons-usable material to a weapons program," the report said. "Such monitoring will increase the strain on the IAEA's already limited resources."

The commission said IAEA has yet to update assessments regarding the amount of effort and time required to achieve nuclear weapons capability. The report said this has hampered agency assessments of national nuclear programs.

"Among the other tests facing the IAEA is the inherent difficulty of reliably detecting dangerous illicit nuclear activities in a timely fashion," the report said. "Some of these difficulties such as detecting military diversions from nuclear fuel cycle activities are not likely to be remedied no matter how much the IAEA's resources are increased."

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