Tehran takes the first steps towards switching on nuclear power station

Iran began loading fuel into the core of its first atomic power plant yesterday, moving closer to the start-up of a facility that leaders have touted as defying international efforts to curtail the country's nuclear ambitions.

The Russian-built nuclear power plant in Bushehr has international approval and is supervised by the UN's nuclear agency. However, the UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions against Iran over a separate track of its nuclear programme – its efforts to refine uranium, which could eventually be used to create material for a weapon.

"Today, we witnessed an important development in the start-up process. After fuel is injected into the heart of the reactor, the door is closed. Then, it will take one or two months to reach 40 or 50 per cent nominal power," the Vice President, Ali Akbar Salehi, told a press conference broadcast on state TV. He pointed out that the fuelling had occurred in spite of the current sanctions.

"The great Iranian nation can manage the sanctions with its resistance, efforts and endeavours, and this is its proof," he said, adding that the reactor should start producing electricity "by mid February".

The US recently withdrew its long-standing opposition to the plant after Russia satisfied concerns over how it would be fuelled and the fate of the spent fuel rods.

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