Russia to Deliver Uranium Fuel for Iran Plant, Raising New Nukes Concerns

BY Talea Miller  August 13, 2010 at 4:54 PM EDT

In another turn of the Iran nuclear story, Russia will begin loading fuel rods into Tehran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr next week, a Russian spokesperson said Friday.

The U.S. has been critical of Russia’s involvement in building the plant, which has been under construction since the mid-1990s but has been marred with complications and delays.

But reaction in Washington was muted Friday. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said if Bushehr can generate power for commercial use, there’s no need for a separate uranium enrichment facility in the central part of the country, known as Natanz.

“It … underscores that Iran does not need its own enrichment capability if its intentions, as it states, are for a peaceful nuclear program.”
Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary

“It, quite clearly, I think, underscores that Iran does not need its own enrichment capability if its intentions, as it states, are for a peaceful nuclear program,” Gibbs said. “So I think in many ways this is — 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.”

The fuel delivery would mark the beginning of operations for the plant.

The U.N. Security Council imposed a fourth round of nuclear sanctions on Iran in June, which was followed by tougher economic sanctions from the United States and European Union.

Russian officials say their completion of the project does not contradict the sanctions and argue the project will help bring Iran into cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is invited to the delivery ceremony on Aug. 21, AFP reports.

No new nuclear material will be introduced into the country through the process, Russia says, because Iran has agreed to send the low-enriched uranium fuel back to Russia for disposal, according to the New York Times.

Once the fuel is irradiated in the final step that would complete and fuel the plant, the paper says, the fuel begins to generate plutonium which is why Russia is insisting it be returned.

On Friday’s NewsHour, Margaret Warner will talk to author and journalist Robin Wright and policy analyst Ray Takeyh about the move and what it says about Iran’s nuclear program. Stay tuned.