Thursday, February 7, 2008

US aid for Russia linked to Iran

WASHINGTON - A U.S. program to keep Russian scientists from providing nuclear expertise to terrorists has funded research facilities that have helped Iran build its new nuclear power reactor, a congressional committee says, citing Russian sources.
The Bush administration expressed confidence that no projects under the program support nuclear work in Iran.
Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, raised questions about the program and its possible link to Iran on a letter Wednesday to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. Dingell, D-Mich., cited information the committee had received from Russian sources.

"It is troubling that DOE (the Department of Energy) would subsidize or otherwise support Russian institutes providing technology and services to the Iranian nuclear program," according to the letter signed by Dingell and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of the investigations subcommittee.

The lawmakers asked the department to provide information on whether specific scientists helped by the program were involved in any Iranian reactor work.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees to assistance program, said it was reviewing all the projects for any possible link to Iran. In a statement, spokesman John Broehm said, "We take all measures necessary to ensure that neither money nor technology falls into the hands of countries of concern."

Iran has said its first nuclear reactor, the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr power plant, will begin operating this summer after receiving from Russia nearly all the nuclear fuel needed to operate.

Dingell's committee held a hearing last month into the aid program, which began after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The goal was to assist Cold War-era Russian scientists find jobs, making it less likely they would sell nuclear information or provide help to terrorists or rogue states.

A report by the Government Accountability Office in January said its investigators had found that in many cases the program was supporting scientists working at thriving Russian research institutes, including those involved in nuclear work.

Documents provided Dingell's committee by the investigative arm of Congress — but not in the original report — included presentations from two leading Russian research institutes involved in the U.S. program that described work the facilities also did for Iran, the lawmakers said.

The committee found that Russia's Scientific Research Institute of Measuring Systems received $2.65 million for geologic mapping projects. The institute also has worked on automated nuclear reactor controls for Bushehr, according to the documents obtained by the committee.

A second Russian institute, the Federal Scientific and Industrial Center of Nuclear Machine Buildings, got $1 million under the U.S. program for a project involving radioactive medical waste management, the committee said. Dingell said that the center, which has built a number of Russian reactors, also worked on water circulation pumps and ventilation equipment at Bushehr.

Dingell and Stupak acknowledged there was no evidence that individual scientists who received assistance from the U.S. program directly participated in any Iranian nuclear activities.

The U.S. program is providing money to more than 100 projects at research institutes in Russia and other former Soviet countries.

This is on Lou Dobbs Tonight too.