(photo credit: Associated Press)
Iran has finished loading fuel into the Bushehr nuclear reactor's core, the country's Atomic Energy Agency chief was quoted by Press TV as saying Wednesday.
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"The loading of the last fuel rods into the core of the Bushehr power plant completed the reactor's fueling process successfully and the plant was capped," Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying.
He stressed that all relevant tests had been conducted successfully, according to the report, and that the reactor will generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity within the next
The startup of the Bushehr power plant, a project completed with Russian
help but beset by years of delays, will deliver Iran the central stated
goal of its atomic work — the generation of nuclear power.
The United States and some of its allies, however, believe the Bushehr
plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as cover for a
secret aim to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the
The Bushehr plant itself is not among the West's concerns because
safeguards are in place to ensure that the spent fuel will be returned
to Russia and cannot be diverted to weapons making.
Other facilities on Iran's nuclear map are of much deeper international
concern, namely the underground uranium enrichment facility in the
central city of Natanz. Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to the
safe, lower levels needed for making fuel for power stations like
But the technology offers Iran a potential pathway to weapons
production, should it chose to enrich uranium to higher, weapons-grade
In the case of Bushehr, the fuel has been provided by Russia, a fact
that the international community has seized upon to argue that Iran does
not need to produce its own fuel at home. Getting the fuel from abroad
would help ensure the material is more closely monitored to prevent it
from being further processed into weapons-grade material.
Iran, however, says it has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty to run its own enrichment program.
The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran's US-backed Shah
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to
build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979
Islamic Revolution toppled the shah and brought hard-line clerics to
In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the
project and work began in 1995.
Under the contract, Bushehr was originally scheduled to come on stream
in July 1999 but the startup has been delayed repeatedly by construction
and supply glitches.
Moscow has cited technical reasons for the delays, but Iranian officials
have sporadically criticized Russia, some calling Moscow an "unreliable
The Bushehr plant overlooks the Persian Gulf and is visible from several
miles away with its cream-colored dome dominating the green landscape.
Soldiers maintain a 24-hour watch on roads leading up to the plant,
manning anti-aircraft guns and supported by numerous radar stations.