Reuters on Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Iran’s first nuclear reactor, part of a program which Washington says is geared to making nuclear arms, will receive its first shipment of enriched uranium from Russia in May, Iranian officials said on Tuesday.
The Russian-built reactor near the southwestern Gulf port Bushehr is scheduled to start up in the second half of 2004, officials from Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization told reporters during an organized press trip to the plant.
“The fuel for Bushehr has been packed and 90 tons of fuel is ready to be shipped. The fuel will be shipped to the site in May 2003,” said Asadollah Sabouri, deputy head of the atomic energy organization
Washington turned up the volume of its concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions last month after the Islamic Republic announced advanced plans to build a host of other nuclear facilities to process and enrich uranium from its own mines.
“It’s hard to get a view into exactly what their motivations are, but very clearly they are pursuing nuclear weapons,” U.S. National Security spokesman Sean McCormack said on Monday.
Officials in Iran, which President Bush has branded part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea, stressed that the enriched uranium for Bushehr could not be used in nuclear weapons and all spent fuel from the 1000 MW reactor would be returned to Russia.
“We get three percent enriched uranium from Russia as fuel, and we should send back the waste fuel after keeping it for one year in Iran under special conditions,” said Abbas Sedqkerdar, head of nuclear security at Bushehr.
“Enriched uranium of more than 90 percent is needed for nuclear weapons, but enriched uranium of three percent is needed for fuel,” he said during a tour of the facility which is surrounded by at least 10 manned anti-aircraft batteries and protected by armed guards.
Iran insists its efforts to control the uranium fuel cycle are aimed at giving it independence from foreign suppliers as it strives to produce 6,000 MW of electricity from atomic reactors by 2022 to meet booming demand from its 65 million population.
Tehran received support on Tuesday from visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who has had to fend off stiff pressure from Washington to halt Russian cooperation with Iran’s nuclear program.
“Iran has no plans to produce nuclear military projects, this is a fundamental truth,” Ivanov said through an interpreter at a news conference in Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stressed Iran was cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“We have nothing to hide, everything is transparent. The Americans are just looking for pretexts,” he said.
Russia and Iran are currently studying the feasibility of building a second reactor. A second unit is half-built at Bushehr, but a decision may be taken to build the next reactor at another site in Bushehr or somewhere else.
“We have started assessment of the three options. We will announce the result in the next four or five months, but the best option is not necessarily to finish the half-completed unit,” Sabouri said.
Washington’s concern has shifted in recent weeks to focus on a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant being built in the central town of Natanz which IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei described as “sophisticated” during a visit to Iran last month.
Sabouri flatly denied a report in Time magazine that Iran had violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by introducing some uranium gas into the centrifuges at Natanz.
He said a uranium conversion plant in the central city of Isfahan would be inaugurated in two to three months but Natanz would not be operational until an unspecified later date.
While reporters were given an extensive tour of the Bushehr plant, officials stopped photographers and TV crews from filming inside the facility.