Iran is busy fueling a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, which is expected to generate 1,000MW of power. They claim that the reactor is for purely civilian purposes and the US recently withdrew its opposition to the reactor. The US dropped its opposition following assurances from the Russians that they would secure the supply chain and prevent spent fuel rods from being processed in Iran to obtain plutonium - a critical element for certain designs of nuclear weapons.
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.”
Since June the UN, the EU, and the US have passed sanctions against Iran. On Friday, reported Reuters, EU Foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton urged Iran to conduct talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Vienna in November with United States, Russia, France, Britain, China, and Germany.
The Bushehr nuclear reactor has a long history of delays. Iran began building the plant in 1975, but its contract with Germany was derailed by the Islamic Revolution four years later. Iran inked a deal with Russia to finish the plant in 1995, but it was repeatedly delayed.
The latest delay was in August, when the fuel rods were delivered to the plant and scheduled to be loaded into the nuclear reactor. Many questioned if the delay came from the Stuxnet computer virus found on computers at the site, as The Christian Science Monitor reported. Iran denied the virus was the reason for the delay.