U.S. money for Russia is linked to Iran nuclear plant
The International Herald Tribune
By Matthew Wald
Published: February 6, 2008

WASHINGTON: The U.S. Energy Department is subsidizing two Russian nuclear institutes that are building key parts of a reactor in Iran that the United States spent years trying to stop, according to a House committee.

The institutes, both in Nizhny Novgorod, gave U.S. officials sales presentations describing their capabilities, and listing the Bushehr reactor, which Russia has agreed to fuel, as one of their projects. One institute is providing control systems, including control room equipment, and the other is providing hundreds of pumps and ventilation fans.

The Energy Department is subsidizing the institutes under the Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention, a program set up after the collapse of the Soviet Union to prevent newly impoverished scientists and their institutions from selling their expertise to states that might be developing nuclear weapons. The United States supplements the salaries of scientists, and pays overhead at those institutes, among others.

It was not immediately clear if the Energy Department was paying the salaries of the scientists involved in the Bushehr reactor. Representative John Dingell, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, asked that question in a letter sent Wednesday to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

"What policy logic justifies DOE funding Russian institutes which are providing nuclear technology to Iran?" the letter asked, referring to the acronym for the Department of Energy. "How does this advance our nonproliferation goals?"

Bushehr is a civilian electric power plant, and because of its design, removing its nuclear fuel to recover the plutonium that is the byproduct of its operations would be cumbersome. In addition, Russia has agreed to take back the spent fuel from the plant, so the plutonium cannot be recovered by the Iranians.

But the United States has looked with some alarm at Iran acquiring nuclear expertise. Iran wants to build a plant to enrich uranium, to make its own reactor fuel, but American officials complain that the enrichment technology could also be used to make warheads, with the civilian nuclear program as a fig leaf to justify the new industry. And Iran has announced plans for other reactors.

In a statement, Dingell, a Democrat of Michigan, said "only this administration would complain about proliferation in Iran, as part of President Bush's axis of evil, and then finance it with American taxpayer dollars." Stupak called it "schizophrenic foreign policy."

The United States pays for a variety of projects at numerous "institutes" in Russia and other former Soviet countries. At the Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems, which is making control room equipment for Bushehr, for example, the United States is paying $1.15 million for a project for radar mapping of geologic structures, which could be used to locate underground mineral deposits.

A study of the American program by the Government Accountability Office released last month found that while the program was intended to provide support for former Soviet weapons scientists, many of those receiving benefits had done no weapons work and some were not old enough to have worked as scientists during Soviet times.

An Energy Department official testifying before Stupak acknowledged at a hearing Jan. 23 that parts of the program might have outlived the original intent.

At the Energy Department, an official who asked not to be named because his response had not finished going through official channels said that "what we're doing is very important to engage these scientists as part of a nonproliferation goal." He said that each sponsored project was approved first by the State Department, the Defense Department and U.S. intelligence agencies, and that the Energy Department did not believe that its sponsorship of programs at institutes that also did work for the Iranians advanced the work of Iran.

Original Text