Iranian and Russian engineers have begun loading fuel into Iran's first nuclear power plant in Bushehr — a move that Tehran has described as historic and a reflection of the country's steadfastness and perseverance.
"Despite all the pressures, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we are now witnessing the start-up of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," Iran's atomic energy head, Ali Akbar Salehi said at a press conference on Saturday.
Russia has partnered Iran in finishing the plant which will have a 1,000 MW power generation capacity. The facility does not pose a proliferation risk as it has been placed under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Russia will take away all the spent fuel generated by the plant so that the material cannot be used for making atomic weapons. Spent fuel contains plutonium, which can be used for making nuclear weapons.
"I thank the Russian government and nation, which cooperated with the great Iranian nation and registered their name in Islamic Iran's golden history," Mr. Salehi said. "Today is a historic day and will be remembered in history."
Russia took over the project in the mid-nineties after work on the Bushehr facility, which began in 1974 stalled following Iran's 1979 revolution. The plant, which had been partially completed also suffered damage in the eighties during the course of the Iran-Iraq war. Before reaching out to Moscow, Iran had turned to Argentina, Spain and other countries for help. However, American pressure prevented these countries from concluding deals with Iran on this project.
Electricity to be generated by November
On Saturday, IAEA officials monitored the transfer of the first truckload of fuel from a storage site to a fuel pool located inside the reactor building. Over the next fortnight, 163 fuel assemblies will be shifted inside this structure, a penultimate step before they are moved into the reactor core. Iranian officials say that the plant is expected to generate electricity by November.
On his part, Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Russian Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) said that Moscow would fully handover the plant to the Iranians over the next two or three years. "Today, we signed an important agreement to set up a joint venture to operate the Bushehr power station. It will be 50-50 in the beginning... But gradually the number of the Russian personnel will be decreased, as will be our share in the capital stock," he said.
"Over a period of two or three years, the Iranian personnel will be given almost full control of the power station."
The Busher facility is located on the shores of the Gulf. Its cream dome, set against a green natural backdrop is visible from a long distance. Security is expectedly tight, and in view of the threat from the air, anti-aircraft weapons, linked to a string of radars have been deployed at the site. A special compound has been set up for the Russian experts and their families to reside.