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Extra: Iran Loads Fuel Rods into Bushehr Nuclear Reactor Core

27 Oct 2010 00:42No Comments
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Iran Loads Fuel Rods into Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant

Christian Science Monitor | Oct 26

Iran today began loading fuel rods into the core of its first nuclear power plant, saying the reactor in Bushehr would begin operation by January.

If confirmed, it would mark the end of long delays in bringing online the plant at the center of Iran's nuclear power program. The last time Iran proclaimed it was ready to power up the Bushehr plant, in August, it sparked alarm that it could be used to create fuel for weapons, although the United States recently withdrew its opposition to the 1,000-megawatt plant.

The move comes as the European Union is pressuring Iran to hold talks on its nuclear program next month. The West accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, which Iran denies, saying the plant is only for civilian power. Nuclear fuel requires enrichment to 3.5 percent, while weapons grade fuel requires enrichment to 90 percent.

The progress at the nuclear reactor was reported by Iran's state-run Press TV on Tuesday. The nuclear reactor would begin operating after all 163 fuel rods are inserted into the core, and is expected to begin generating electricity by early 2011, according to Press TV. Iran has declared plans to build 20 nuclear power plants in the next 20 years.

The New York Times reports that Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country had succeeded in its "peaceful nuclear activities" despite political pressure and sanctions. "The Bushehr power plant is a major project which will help us to take one step toward future alternative energy supplies," he said. "We will also pursue our peaceful nuclear activities in other areas."

Iran Begins Fuelling Nuclear Power Plant

National Post | Oct 26

"Today, the plant is going through the sensitive phase of loading fuel in the core...we hope that the electricity produced by the Bushehr nuclear plant will be connected to the national grid in three months' time," state television reported atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.

The transfer of fuel into the facility began on August 21 in a process that was described as the "physical launch" of the power plant by Russia which took over construction of the complex in the mid 1990s.

Rich in both oil and gas, the Islamic republic says it needs the plant, which had been under construction from the 1970s before being completed by Russia, to meet a growing demand for electricity.

Tuesday's announcement that fuel was being loaded into the core takes Iran a step closer to putting its first nuclear power plant on stream.

Moscow has supplied 82 tonnes of fuel for Bushehr and also plans to reprocess the spent material.

German contractors from Siemens began work on the Bushehr plant in the 1970s under the rule of the U.S.-backed shah, but the project was shelved when the shah was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

It was revived a decade later under current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and in 1994, Russia agreed to complete its construction.

Clinton: No Problem with Iran Bushehr Atomic Plant

Reuters | Oct 26

The United States has no problem with Iran's Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor plant but with other sites where weapons work may be underway, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

"Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr, our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program," Clinton told reporters at a meeting with Austria's foreign minister.

Q&A -- Should the West Worry about Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Plant?

Reuters | Oct 26

DOES BUSHEHR POSE ANY PROLIFERATION CONCERNS?

Analysts say Bushehr will not bring Iran any closer to developing an atom bomb. Russia's role in supplying the fuel and operating the plant and inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog would prevent any diversion of material for military purposes.

Oliver Thraenert, senior fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said he did not believe the "reactor itself is a tool for Iran to develop nuclear weapons" but that other parts of its activities are.

Iran, which enriches uranium in a large underground complex at Natanz, says its nuclear programme is solely meant to yield electricity or isotopes for medicine and agriculture.

Washington earlier criticised Moscow for pushing ahead with Bushehr and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in March its planned start-up was "premature".

But the criticism was not repeated after Russia in August announced it would load the fuel and the U.S. State Department said it did not regard the plant as a proliferation risk.

The launch of Bushehr may still rankle some in the United States and Israel -- Iran's arch-foes -- which are deeply suspicious of Iran's nuclear policy. Iran's uranium enrichment element was hidden from U.N. inspectors until 2003.

John Bolton, the Bush-era U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been quoted as saying Bushehr would give Iran "a second route to nuclear weapons in addition to enriched uranium. It's a very huge, huge victory for Iran."

But other diplomats and experts played down any fears that the Bushehr plant may help Iran build nuclear weapons.

"There are some fairly rigorous...checks and balances built into the operation of the plant," said Middle East analyst David Hartwell at IHS Jane's, a global risk consultancy.

Uranium enriched to about 5 percent fissile purity is used as fuel for power plants. If refined to 80-90 percent purity, it provides the fissile core of nuclear weapons.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN WITH BUSHEHR'S SPENT FUEL?

Offering a different route to building a bomb, weapons-grade plutonium can be derived from spent fuel rods. But under its fuel contract with Moscow, Iran must return Bushehr's fuel rods to Russia after they have been used and cooled down.

HOW DOES BUSHEHR FIT INTO IRAN'S ENERGY PLANS?

Iran has said it wants Bushehr to be the first in a network of nuclear power plants by 2030 that would slake rising energy demand at home and allow it to export more of its oil and gas.

Western experts say this aim is unrealistic, since Iran lacks experience in building nuclear reactors itself and it could face problems in buying them abroad due to prevailing United Nations sanctions.

"It of course depends on the sanctions and also on international assistance Iran receives or not receives...but 20 reactors, no, this is a pipe dream," said Thraenert.

Ian Hore-Lacy, public communications director of the World Nuclear Association industry body, said the Bushehr plant was a relatively big unit. "If it were in Europe, it would supply electricity to about 800,000 or 900,000 people."

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