(photo credit: Stringer Iran / Reuters)
MOSCOW - Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station has begun operating at a low level in a crucial step towards bringing it online, the Russian company that built the plant said on Tuesday.
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The generating unit at Iran's first atomic power plant was brought up to the "minimum controllable level of power" on Sunday, Atomstroyexport, the state company that builds nuclear plants abroad, said in a statement.
"This means that a nuclear reaction has begun," Vladislav Bochkov, spokesman for Atomstroyexport's parent company Rosatom, told Reuters. "This is one of the final stages in the physical launch of the reactor."
Begun in the 1970s by a German consortium, construction on the plant was
abandoned after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and has faced repeated
delays since the mid-1990s, when Moscow reached a $1 billion deal with
Tehran to complete it.
The United States and other Western nations for years urged Russia to
abandon the project, fearing it would help Iran develop nuclear weapons.
But an agreement obliging Tehran to repatriate spent nuclear fuel to
Russia eased those concerns.
Still, Iranian politicians have blamed Russia for delays in the past.
Analysts say Russia, which has ties with Tehran but is one of the global
powers seeking to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons, has used
the project as a lever in diplomacy.
On Monday, a member of an Iranian parliamentary commission monitoring
Bushehr said "final tests" were being conducted, and Iran's Fars news
agency said the plant would start providing power to the national grid
within two months.
Bochkov said the reactor's operational and safety systems were being
tested at the low power level. This will be increased gradually and
brought to full capacity, "and after that it will be integrated into
Iran's power grid," he said.
Bochkov gave no time frame for that.
Iran began loading fuel into Bushehr last August in front of foreign and
domestic media, touting it as a symbol of resistance to international
sanctions imposed by countries that suspect the Islamic state is seeking
nuclear weapons, something it denies.
The plant had been expected to go online early this year, but ran into
more delays including what officials said was a technical problem that
required removal of the fuel assemblies.
The Bushehr plant's single reactor is to produce 1,000 megawatts, about 2.5 percent of Iran's electricity usage.