The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is imposing its version of “double-secret” probation, agreeing to suspend funding for Iran’s heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. That facility, scheduled to begin operations in 2009, could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Under a deal reached by the IAEA’s board of governors, the agency will suspend funding for the Arak facility, while continuing support for other, “peaceful” projects. According to the Los Angeles Times, IAEA technical assistance to Iran totals less than $1 million a year, so elimination of funding for the Arak project will not delay its completion or operation.
The decision to end financial assistance for the Arak facility was handed “discreetly,” without a formal vote. Apparently, IAEA members feared that the Iran decision would set a precedent, and (potentially) prevent funding for their own projects in the future. The Times reports that the agency currently funds more than 800 projects around the world, at an annual cost of $70 million. That may not sound like much, but it certainly raises questions about other, dual-use projects that receive money from the IAEA, which (of course) receives much of its support from the American taxpayer.
Obviously, the real issue is why the IAEA provided any funding to Iran, given the suspicions long associated with its nuclear program. Tehran’s efforts to build nuclear weapons began two decades ago; the Arak facility has been the object of serious concern for almost ten years, but the IAEA kept providing assistance, ignoring the obvious warning signs.
Suspending assistance for the Arak complex (at this point) is the equivalent of Dean Wormer’s imposing “double secret probation” on the Deltas in Animal House. A 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor is far beyond anything Iran needs for peaceful purposes, including the production of radioactive isotopes for medical research. Yet, the IAEA continued to provide token funding until it became publicly–and politically–unpalatable. Clearly, the elimination of a sliver of funding for the reactor–now in the final stages of construction–will have about the same impact as the penalty handed down in the film.
As I recall, the double secret probation line was a big laugh-getter in Animal House. In the case of the IAEA “sanction,” the only laughter we’ll hear will be coming from Iran, secure in the knowledge that the international community has no desire–or plans–to deter its nuclear ambitions.