RUSSIA HAS begun to load fuel into Iran’s first nuclear reactor.
Despite Iran being the world’s second-largest exporter of crude oil and has the second-largest reserves of natural gas, it says it needs a nuclear reactor to guarantee an alternative energy source for its fossil fuel reserves run out.
Tehran has said that the project has commenced under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and that the depositing of uranium-packed fuel rods into the reactor will take about two weeks to complete.
Iran’s atomic energy agency released a statement, which read:
The operation of transferring nuclear fuel to the reactor was carried out in [the] presence of Ali Akbar Salehi, vice-president and head of Iran’s atomic body, and Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s atomic body, Rosatom
The Bushehr Plant
The start-up of the Bushehr plant, which has so far cost $1bn, has been delayed by nearly 40 years. The site of the plant was previously used by the Germany company Siemens, who had operation there in the 1970s. Russia agreed to help Iran to built a plant there in 1995.
Although the US has said that it does not consider Bushehr as a proliferation risk, it has criticised the Russian decision to assist Iran at a time when tensions regarding Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are running high in the international community. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denied that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon, but fears are growing.
Sanctions have been placed on Iran by the the US, UN, and EU over the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Russia has defended itself by pointing out that an agreement has been reached whereby Iran would return used fuel rods to Russia. Weapons-grade plutonium can be derived from spent fuel rods.
“Not a proliferation threat”
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Mark Fitzpatrick, an expert in non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said that the Bushehr plant would not be a proliferation threat “as long as it is run to produce power for electricity generation”. She added:
It would be a risk if Iran operated it differently, for short periods at low-burn up in order to produce weapons-usable plutonium – but in this case the IAEA would know.