IAEA is running short on funds

Published 26 June 2007

You would think that with problems such as North Korea, Iran, and securing nuclear materials in the former USSR, the IAEA would be given the means to make the world safer; think again

We don’t know that this the news we want to hear at this time: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, is so poorly financed that it might be unable to deal with an atomic accident and no longer has top-grade equipment to detect secret weapons programs, its director has warned. “If an accident were to happen tomorrow, we would be hard-pressed to carry out core functions. This is a reality,” Mohamed ElBaradei told a meeting of the governors of the IAEA.

The IAEA has asked for a 2 percent increase in its £190 million budget but major contributors have opposed this, citing their own budgetary constraints or arguing that the agency could do its work more efficiently with the resources it now has. “The proposed budget does not by any stretch of the imagination meet our basic, essential requirements,” ElBaradei said at the meeting.

A new budgetary challenge for his agency will be the imminent mission to North Korea to verify its promised nuclear disarmament. “I do not want in the future to see a clandestine nuclear weapon programme in some place, or a safety accident in another, that we have failed to pre-empt because we did not take the measures that were needed, as we saw in the case of the weapons programme in Iraq and the [nuclear disaster] at Chernobyl,” he said.

A key aspect of IAEA investigations in Iran has been the testing of traces of highly enriched — bomb-grade — uranium to assess their origin but the work often must be farmed out to non-IAEA laboratories due to shortcomings in agency equipment. “Today we cannot consistently do environmental sampling analysis ourselves due to the unreliability of an instrument that is 28 years old,” ElBaradei said. “The budget essentially is a political statement. The basic question is: what kind of agency do you want to have? You can easily have a mediocre agency. Or you can have an effective one capable of carrying out functions assigned to it and crucial to development and security, indeed to survival.”