Russia plans to begin operating the nuclear reactor it has been building for Iran before the end of 2009, the Interfax News Agency quoted a top official as saying on Thursday. "If there are no unforeseen events... then the launch will go according to the timetable," Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, was quoted as saying. "The launch is scheduled for this year." A Rosatom spokesman said Kiriyenko was talking about the so-called "technical" start-up, which would be the first time the reactor is fully switched on, to test its systems before electricity is supplied to the grid. Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor project has encountered delays in the past, mainly on the grounds of payment disputes between the Islamic Republic and Moscow. Russia claimed the Iranians had failed to meet their payments. Russia has already delivered nuclear fuel to Bushehr under a $1 billion contract to build the plant on the Gulf coast in southwest Iran. In September 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Defense minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni for discussions amid Iranian reports that Bushehr would open by the end of 2008. Iran agreed to return spent nuclear fuel from the plant to Russia to ensure Teheran did not extract materials that could be used in producing nuclear arms, but Jerusalem doubted the effectiveness the agreement. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.