Iran begins fueling first nuclear reactor

Iranian and Russian engineers have begun loading fuel into Iran's first nuclear power plant, which Moscow has promised to safeguard to prevent material at the site from being used in any potential weapons production.

After years of delays, the fueling of the Bushehr plant in southern Iran marks the startup of a facility for energy production that the U.S. once hoped to block as a way to pressure the country to stop separate nuclear activities of far greater concern.



There have not been strong objections to the Bushehr plant itself as there have been with Iran's separate efforts at other sites to accelerate uranium enrichment — a process that makes the fuel for power plants but which can also be used in weapons production.



Even as Iran's nuclear chief said the plant demonstrated the country has only peaceful aims, he celebrated it as a defiant "symbol of Iranian resistance and patience" in the face of Western pressure.



"Despite all pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are now witnessing the startup of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters inside the plant.



Washington and other nations do not oppose Iran's stated aim of producing nuclear energy, but are concerned that if Iran masters the enrichment cycle it would have a pathway to weapons production under the convenient cover of a peaceful energy program. Iran denies such an intention.



It is the enrichment work that has been the target of four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions.



Russia, which helped finish building Bushehr, has pledged to prevent spent nuclear fuel at the site from being shifted to a possible weapons program. After years of delaying its completion, Moscow says it believes the Bushehr project is essential for persuading Iran to cooperate with international efforts to ensure Iran does not develop the bomb.



The United States, while no longer formally objecting to the plant, disagrees and says Iran should not be rewarded while it continues to defy U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment.



On Saturday, a first truckload of fuel was taken from a storage site to a fuel "pool" inside the reactor building under the watch of monitors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency. Over the next two weeks, 163 fuel assemblies — equal to 80 tons of uranium fuel — will be moved inside the building and then into the reactor core.



Workers in white lab coats and helmets led reporters on a tour of the cavernous facility.



It will be another two months before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor is pumping electricity to Iranian cities.



The Bushehr plant is not considered a proliferation risk because the terms of the deal commit the Iranians to allowing the Russians to retrieve all used reactor fuel for reprocessing. Spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used to make atomic weapons. Additionally, Iran has said that IAEA experts will be able to verify that none of the fresh fuel or waste is diverted.



Of greater concern to the West, however, are Iran's stated plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment sites inside protected mountain strongholds. Iran said recently it will begin construction on the first one in March in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.



Nationwide celebrations were planned for Saturday's fuel loading at Bushehr.



"I thank the Russian government and nation, which cooperated with the great Iranian nation and registered their name in Islamic Iran's golden history," Salehi said. "Today is a historic day and will be remembered in history."



He spoke at a news conference inside the plant with the head of Russia's state-run nuclear corporation, Sergei Kiriyenko, who said Russia was always committed to the project.



"The countdown to the Bushehr nuclear power plant has started," Kiriyenko said. "Congratulations."



Iran's hard-liners consider the completion of the plant to be a show of defiance against U.N. Security Council sanctions that seek to slow Iran's other nuclear advances.



Hard-line leader Hamid Reza Taraqi said the launch will boost Iran's international standing and "will show the failure of all sanctions" against Iran.



President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Friday that Tehran was ready to resume negotiations with the six major powers trying to curb Iran's enrichment work — the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany.



Ahmadinejad, however, insisted Iran would reject calls to completely halt uranium enrichment, a key U.N. demand. The president had earlier said the talks could start in September, but in an interview with Japan's biggest newspaper, The Yomiuri Shimbun, he said the talks could start as early as this month.



Russia signed a $1 billion contract to build the Bushehr plant in 1995 but has dragged its feet on completing the work.



Moscow had cited technical reasons for the delays, but analysts say Russia used the project to try to press Iran to ease its defiance over its nuclear program.



The uranium fuel Russia has supplied for Bushehr is well below the more than 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear warhead. Iran is already producing its own uranium enriched to the Bushehr level — about 3.5 percent. It also has started a pilot program of enriching uranium to 20 percent, which officials say is needed for a medical research reactor.



The Bushehr plant overlooks the Persian Gulf and is visible from several miles (kilometers) away with its cream-colored dome dominating the green landscape. Soldiers maintain a 24-hour watch on roads leading up to the plant, manning anti-aircraft guns and supported by numerous radar stations.



There are several housing facilities for employees inside the complex plus a separate large compound housing the families of Russian experts and technicians. The site is about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) south of Tehran.



Russians began shipping fuel for the plant in 2007 and carried out a test-run of the plant in February 2009.



Iran says it plans to build other reactors and says designs for a second rector in southwestern Iran are taking shape.



The Bushehr project dates backs to 1974, when Iran's U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the shah.



The partially finished plant later sustained damages after it was bombed by Iraq during its 1980-88 war against Iran.



Before making the Russian deal to complete Bushehr, Iran signed pacts with Argentina, Spain and other countries only to see them canceled under U.S. pressure.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops
films
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Sales Manager

£60k - 80k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game