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UK stumps up £1.1m for cash-strapped nuke watchdog

IT system facing meltdown

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The UK government has chipped in £1.1m to help out the cash-strapped International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - charged with monitoring the spread of nuclear weapons. The money is intended to prop up the IAEA's ailing IAEA Safeguards Information System (ISIS), which processes data about clandestine nuclear weapons programmes.

DTI Minister Nigel Griffiths said: "Countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a key priority for the Government and international community. The IAEA has a central role in this area, in particular through continued effective and efficient safeguards work. This is why the ISIS re-engineering project is so important."

However, the UK hand-out is merely part of the funds required to revamp the IAEA's outdated 1970s IT infrastructure. The £1.1m will simply allow the agency to "engage contractors for the project" - which presumably means a load of blokes looking despairingly at servers while tutting, sucking air through their teeth and offering: "Oh dear. Who installed this lot mate? It's gonna cost you...."

Indeed, the DTI press release notes that the IAEA "does not have the funds necessary to complete the ISIS re-engineering project, and has requested financial support from its Member States. To date, only the UK and the US has provided funding for the project". It also warns: "Failure to replace the hardware and software now would carry high risks, with the potential for even higher costs to be incurred later."

The IAEA, meanwhile, is currently holding its 48th general conference in Vienna. As an example of what it has to deal with, here's an extract from a statement to the conference by Reza Aghazadeh, vice prez of Iran and head of the Islamic republic's Atomic Energy Organization:

For more than a quarter of century, in spite of sanctions, discrimination, deprivation and 8-year imposed war, our great nation has been able to stand on her feet and to struggle for independence and sustainable development. Unjustified continuous sanctions on various items even with direct impact on humanitarian needs as well as the ones with peaceful application of nuclear energy left no other option than the national mobilization for selfsufficiency. Remarkable achievements on various peaceful applications of nuclear technology and various stages of nuclear fuel production are the result of decades of huge investment and scientific efforts of our eminent experts.

Our great nation will not permit any interference and or interruption in our purely peaceful and indigenous nuclear program and it will not give up, at any price.

Iran is, of course, reacting to US and British sabre-rattling about its alleged nuclear weapons programme. Rather smartly, Aghazadeh notes:

It is just too extreme an irony, that Israel’s nuclear weapons program is not only tolerated, but indeed assisted and aided and impunity is prescribed and applied to the fullest, while peaceful programs with no established evidence of diversion are scrutinized. Such acute double-standard can not, must not and will not be sustained at the Agency.

We wish the agency well in successfully negotiating this particular political minefield, and hope that it can soon migrate its IT infrastructure onto something a little more cutting-edge. Perhaps Iran and Israel might be persuaded to open their wallets in the interests of international peace, love and understanding? ®

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