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Iran starts to fuel up first nuclear power plant

Will continue to enrich uranium despite Russian supply.

August 21, 2010 2:03 by



Iran began fuelling its first nuclear power plant on Saturday, a potent symbol of its growing regional sway and rejection of international sanctions designed to prevent it building a nuclear bomb.

Iranian television showed live pictures of Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi and his Russian counterpart watching a fuel rod assembly being prepared for insertion into the reactor near the Gulf city of Bushehr.

“Despite all the pressures, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are now witnessing the start-up of the largest symbol of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities,” Salehi told a news conference afterwards.

Iranian officials said it would take two to three months before the plant starts producing electricity and would generate 1,000 megawatts once it reaches full power.

Russia designed, built and will supply fuel for Bushehr, taking back spent rods which could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium in order to ease nuclear proliferation concerns.

Saturday’s ceremony comes after decades of delays building the plant, work on which was initially started by German company Siemens in the 1970s, before Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

The United States criticised Moscow earlier this year for pushing ahead with Bushehr given persistent Iranian defiance over its nuclear programme.

Moscow supported a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution in June which imposed new sanctions and called for Iran to stop uranium enrichment which, some countries fear, could lead it to obtain nuclear weapons.

“The construction of the nuclear plant at Bushehr is a clear example showing that any country, if it abides by existing international legislation and provides effective, open interaction with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), should have the opportunity to access peaceful use of the atom,” Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, told the news conference.

CONCERN

The fuelling of Bushehr is a milestone in Iran’s path to harness technology which it says will reduce consumption of its abundant fossil fuels, allowing it to export more oil and gas and to prepare for the day when the minerals riches dry up.

Many countries in the oil-rich Gulf region are planning to build nuclear power stations and the Bushehr start-up puts Iran ahead of its Arab rivals across the Gulf.

While most nuclear analysts say Bushehr does not add to any proliferation risk, many countries remain deeply concerned about Iran’s uranium enrichment.

It disclosed the existence of a second enrichment plant only last year and announced in February it was enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent, from about 3.5 percent previously, taking it closer to weapons-grade levels and well above what is needed to fuel a power plant.

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, said it needed to enrich to that level as a deal with major world power and the IAEA to supply special fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran had fallen apart.

Salehi dismissed U.S. suggestions that Russia’s guarantee to supply nuclear fuel meant Iran no longer needed to enrich its own uranium, but said Iran was in “no hurry” to build 10 new enrichment plants, something he had previously said would start by next March.

“This is not at all in contradiction to our agreement with the Russians,” he said of Iran’s determination to keep enriching uranium. “We intend only to show to the international community that we have the capability to supply our own fuel in case anything comes up that is unexpected.”

(By Katya Golubkova and Ramin Mostafavi. Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Boyle)



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