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Iran on Sunday announced plans to build two more nuclear power plants despite international pressures to curb its controversial nuclear program.
Ahmad Fayyazbakhsh, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization in charge of power plants, said the plants would be light-water reactors, each with the capacity to generate up to 1,600 megawatts of electricity.
Each plant would cost up to US$1.7 billion and take up to 11 years to construct, he told reporters during a news conference at his office.
The country has been locked in a bitter dispute with Russia over the funding of Iran's first nuclear power plant outside the southern city of Bushehr.
Russia delayed Bushehr's launch, which had been set for September, and refused to ship uranium fuel for the reactor last month as earlier planned, citing Iran's payment arrears. Iranian officials denied any payment delays under the US$1 billion contract, and accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure.
Iran is already building a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor in Arak, central Iran, based on domestic technology. It is also preparing to build a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in Darkhovin, in southwestern Iran.
Fayyazbakhsh said the two new plants would be built near Bushehr. He also said he planned to travel to Russia next week to try to ease tensions and get the Bushehr plant back on track.
The bids for the two plants, which will expire in early August, have been published on the nuclear organization's Web site. Iran has already negotiated with several foreign companies that have expressed interest in the new project, Fayyazbakhsh said. He declined to name the companies.
Under Iranian law, the nuclear organization has been assigned to provide 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants over the next 20 years.
The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons - a charge Iran denies.
Iran has insisted it has a right to develop enrichment and has pushed ahead with the process at a separate facility outside the central town of Natanz.
The UN Security Council last month voted to impose new sanctions on Iran as part of a second set of penalties in three months against Teheran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
The enrichment process can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or - if taken to a higher degree - the material for atomic bombs.
The latest sanctions included the banning of Iranian arms exports and freezing of assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear missile programs.
Iran has rejected the sanctions and announced a partial suspension of cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Association.
Earlier Sunday, Britain's The Independent reported that Iran was providing secret training camps for Iraqi Shias near Teheran.
According to the report, thousands of volunteers, loyal to Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, are being trained in "advanced guerrilla warfare" by instructors believed to hail from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Witnessess who had participated in the training who spoke to the The Independent, said that hundreds of fellow Iraqi Shia militants were being taught to "attack Americans" in preparation for "their big battle with the occupiers."
They said that fighters were being trained to shoot down helicopters, destroy armored vehicles and were being given expertise in the use of explosives.