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Russia Set to Provide Fuel for Iranian Nuclear Power Plant

August 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And now, Iran’s nuclear deal with Russia. Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: An announcement from Moscow this morning put Iran a step closer to opening its first-ever nuclear power plant. Next week, technicians will start loading stored Russian uranium fuel rods into a long-delayed Russian-built reactor at Bushehr.

SERGEI NOVIKOV, Russian Nuclear Agency Representative (through translator): On August 21st, the delivery of nuclear fuel will begin to the power unit of the Bushehr nuclear power station. From that moment, the power unit will be officially considered a nuclear energy installation.

MARGARET WARNER: Bushehr is in southern Iran, near the Persian Gulf. It’s quite separate from the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, in central Iran.

Natanz is among the facilities that’s generating U.S. concern that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Moscow says Bushehr shouldn’t cause worry because Tehran signed a contract to return that plant’s spent fuel to Russia so it can’t turned into weapons-grade material. And inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency will monitor activities there.

Reaction in Washington today was muted. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Iranian-Russian deal shows there’s no need for Iran to enrich its own uranium if all it wants is a civilian nuclear program.

ROBERT GIBBS: I think in many ways this is a concept that closes that fuel loop, and I think again demonstrates and proves to the world that if the Iranians are sincere in a peaceful program, their needs can be met without undertaking its own enrichment program which call into question its motives.

MARGARET WARNER: But in March, meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Secretary of State Clinton questioned the wisdom of finishing Bushehr right now.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Iran is entitled to civil nuclear power. It is a nuclear weapons program that it is not entitled to. We think it would be premature to go forward with any project at this time because we want to send an unequivocal message to the Iranians.

MARGARET WARNER: Foreign Minister Lavrov rejected that position.

SERGEY LAVROV, foreign minister, Russia (through translated): This project will be finished. This nuclear power station in Bushehr will be launched. It will be working and giving electric energy.

MARGARET WARNER: Bushehr has been under construction for decade, first by the Germans, and in the last 15 years, by the Russians.