Iran says fuel not removed at Bushehr nuclear site

Statement contradicts earlier reports from Iran's ambassador to the IAEA; move signals a further possible delay in the plant's operation.

By REUTERS
March 1, 2011 20:48
2 minute read.
Iranian Reactor

Iranian Reactor 311 reuters. (photo credit: reuters)

 
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TEHRAN - Iran has not yet removed fuel from its Bushehr nuclear power plant, its foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, signalling a further possible delay to the Russian-built plant's operation date.

Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog had said on Feb. 26 that Tehran was having to remove fuel from the reactor of its only nuclear power station, the latest glitch to hit Bushehr in Iran's decades-long attempts to bring it on line.

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But foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Reuters: "The nuclear fuel has not been unloaded at the Bushehr power plant and this plant is continuing its routine activities."

He added: "We hope that Russia can meet the schedule ... and have the Bushehr plant join Iran's national grid on time."

It was not clear when the removal of the fuel might begin.

Amid confusion over the status of the plant, Iranian officials have said the fuel was being unloaded for tests on the advice of Russian engineers, and that it was being removed for safety reasons.

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Russia's state-run nuclear agency said on Monday that the problem was caused by damage to internal elements in a cooling pump.

A senior Iranian official said in February that suggestions should be investigated that the Stuxnet computer worm, believed to have been an attempt by Iran's enemies to sabotage the nuclear program, had caused harm to the 1,000 megawatt Bushehr reactor.

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Russia's NATO ambassador has said the computer virus could have triggered a nuclear disaster on the scale of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.

Bushehr was started by Germany's Siemens in the 1970s, before Iran's Islamic revolution, and has been dogged by delays. Fuel was loaded into the reactor four months ago but a January deadline for it to start producing electricity was missed.

Further delays could be an embarrassment not only to Iranian politicians who have made Bushehr the showpiece of what they insist are Tehran's peaceful nuclear ambitions, but also for Russia, which would like to export more of its nuclear know-how to emerging economies.

Many analysts believe Stuxnet was a cyber attack by the United States and Israel aimed at disabling Iran's nuclear equipment and slowing down a program they suspect is aimed at making nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies.

Iranian officials have confirmed Stuxnet hit staff computers at Bushehr but said it did not affect major systems.

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