The IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme

Justin Adamson
March 23, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: A map of IAEA Members (in green) and non-members (in red and orange). (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization consisting of 168 countries, seen in Fig. 1 at right, that is charged with promoting nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and preventing its use as a weapon. It administers the Technical Cooperation Program (TCP). The TCP is a crucial part of incenting countries to cooperate with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty: signatories agree to not develop nuclear weapons, and in return receive technical assistance in utilizing nuclear technologies for civilian purposes. Article 4 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty reads: Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing alone or together with other States or international organizations to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non- nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world. [1]

The TCP is one method by which states with a highly developed nuclear program can contribute to this spread of peaceful nuclear technologies. The TCP is funded through voluntary contributions by IAEA member states, as well as external donors. [2] The assistance provided comes in a variety of forms, including training fellowships, equipment provision and training, expert assistance, and large infrastructure cooperation projects. [2]

TCP Activities

The IAEA will provide direct assistance towards developing nuclear infrastructure and establishing the resources, facilities, and expertise necessary to carry out the nuclear fuel cycle in member states. [2] The hope is that heavy IAEA involvement in a civilian nuclear energy program will not only help it develop more quickly and safely, but also make it less likely that the program veers off into weapons production. [2]

Another significant area of focus, that today receives 25% of the TCP's total funds, is on nuclear medicine. [3] The IAEA will provide training and technology to allow for the development of nuclear medicine programs, particularly for cancer treatment, in member states. [3] This assistance has become increasingly important in developing countries that may not have the indigenous expertise needed for nuclear medicine, and the IAEA further helps these countries in matters of safety, radiation protection, and nuclear medicine center planning. Procurement of equipment consumes about three fifths of the TCP funds for nuclear medicine, with the rest being used for training, fellowships, and expert assistance. [4]

Examples of TCP nuclear medicine projects include the improvement of equipment and training at two nuclear medicine centers in Cuba, the establishment of Burkina Faso's first nuclear medicine service, and upgrades to imaging equipment in Macedonia. [4]

The IAEA also assists in industrial, environmental, and agricultural applications of nuclear technology. This includes facilities for wastewater treatment, disinfection of food or medical products, and mutation induction breeding for agriculture. They also assist in monitoring of groundwater, pollution, and marine resources through nuclear isotope monitoring and nuclear tracers. [5]

As an example of a cooperation program: in 1999, the IAEA TCP assisted in a study of water balance in Lake Titicaca on the Peru-Bolivia border. In accordance with this study, the TCP helped conducts tests for the chemical and isotopic of the water, upgraded lab equipment at local scientific institutions, helped run tests that could not be conducted locally, provided a training course on Isotope Limnology for local scientists and technicians, and established several fellowships. [5] This demonstrates a variety of TCP assistance methods, including providing training, technical assistance, and helping to develop local capacity and technology.

TCP and Nuclear Weapons

The Technical Cooperation Program is specifically chartered to peacefully exchange and develop civilian nuclear technology. Indeed, the article of the IAEA charter that it germinated from specifically requires the IAEA to ensure that countries do not use technology or expertise that is transferred to further a nuclear weapons program.

Nonetheless, the program has received scrutiny. The TCP has undertaken over 150 projects in Pakistan since 1973, and during this time Pakistan developed its domestic nuclear weapons program. [2] Per researchers from UCSD, one former IAEA safeguards inspector claimed that the uranium used in the Pakistani nuclear weapons program all came from a TCP- backed processing plant. [2] The TCP also has assisted with programs in North Korea, including uranium prospecting projects.

A statistical analysis conducted by UCSD and Temple University researchers found that states that participate in TCP projects related to the nuclear fuel cycle are more likely to pursue nuclear weapons programs. [2] The researchers note that this could be because TCP projects help reduce the barrier to entry for such programs, or because states that desire nuclear weapons are likely to request TCP assistance for ostensibly civilian projects as a way to gain technology and expertise.

© Justin Adamson. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," United Nations Treaty Series 729, No. 10485, May 1970.

[2] R. Brown and J. Kaplow, "Talking Peace, Making Weapons: IAEA Technical Cooperation and Nuclear Proliferation," J. Confl. Resolut. 58, 402 (2014).

[3] E. Salminen, J. Izewska, and P. Andreo, "IAEA's role in the Global Management of Cancer-Focus on Upgrading Radiotherapy Services," Acta Oncol. 44, 816 (2005).

[4] J. A. Casas-Zamora and R. Kashyap, "The IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme and Nuclear Medicine in the Developing World: Objectives, Trends, and Contributions," Semin. Nucl. Med. 43, 172 (2013).

[5] M. A. P. Riveros and R. Gonfiantini, "Lake Titicaca: History and Current Studies," International Atomic Energy Agency, Water and Environment News, INIS-XA-259, No. 8/9, December 1999, p. 6.