(photo credit: Stringer Iran / Reuters)
MOSCOW - Nuclear fuel is once again being loaded into the reactor of Iran's Bushehr power plant, the Russian company that built the station said on Friday, after the latest in a series of delays to its launch.
Russia has built Iran's first nuclear power plant under a $1 billion deal dating back to the 1990s. The project has long been a focus of attention because of global concern that Tehran's nuclear programme could be aimed at developing weapons.
'German gov't, Iranian bank EIH circumvent sanctions'
Congressman: US policy on Iran shows 'weakness'
The plant near the Persian Gulf had been due to start producing electricity early this year after the process of loading nuclear fuel into the reactor core got under way last October.
But Russia and Iran said late in February that the fuel would have to be taken back out of the reactor because broken pumps had sent small pieces of metal into the cooling system, raising fears that fuel rods could be damaged.
Russia's state-run company Atomstroyexport, which builds nuclear power plants abroad, said fuel was being loaded again after it finished examining and cleansing the pipes and fuel assemblies.
"On April 8, 2011, loading of fuel rod arrays began at Bushehr," Atomstroyexport said in a statement. It said the removal of the fuel had been "a necessary measure" to ensure safety.
"To rule out the possible effects of particles hitting the fuel assemblies, the fuel assemblies were removed from the reactor and rinsed and the body of the reactor was cleaned," it said.
Atomstroyexport said the reactor would be powered up after additional work and tests. It gave no timetable but said all work was being conducted according to a schedule agreed with Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on March 1 that the problem
was purely technical and he expected it to be resolved within three
Iran has blamed Russia for delays at Bushehr, which was
first begun by Germany's Siemens in the 1970s but halted after Iran's
The United States and other Western countries
urged Russia for years to abandon the project, saying it could help
Tehran develop nuclear weapons, but those fears were allayed five years
ago by a deal committing Iran to return spent fuel to Russia.
is under UN nuclear watchdog investigation and UN sanctions over
its defiance of international demands that it halt uranium enrichment
and do more to back up its claim that its nuclear programme is purely