Reuters: Russia plans to start up a nuclear reactor at Iran's Bushehr plant by the end of the year, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation said on Thursday.
By Denis Dyomkin and Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia plans to start up a nuclear reactor at Iran's Bushehr plant by the end of the year, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation said on Thursday.
"If there are no unforeseen events…then the launch will go according to the timetable," Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters in the Kremlin.
"The launch is scheduled for this year," he said, adding that this was the original plan laid down in a timetable agreed with Iran. "I plan to be at the Bushehr plant in February."
The West, which suspects Iran of seeking to produce its own nuclear bomb, has been critical of Russia's involvement in Bushehr. Russia says the plant is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons programme.
Analysts say Iran could become a key issue in relations between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and new U.S. President Barack Obama, who said last month that the United States was prepared to talk to Tehran.
A Rosatom spokesman said Kiriyenko was talking about the so- called "technical" start-up, which will be the first time the reactor is fully switched on and aims to test its systems before electricity is supplied to the grid.
The start up the Bushehr plant's nuclear reactor has been delayed frequently, though Russia last year completed delivery of nuclear fuel to the station under a total contract estimated to be worth about $1 billion (683 million pound).
Analysts say Russia has used Bushehr as a lever in relations with Tehran, which is suspected by the United States and some European countries of seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Russia started deliveries of nuclear fuel for the plant in late 2007, a step both Washington and Moscow said removed any need for Iran to have its own uranium enrichment programme.
European diplomats say Russia's leverage with Tehran has played a constructive role in talks on Iran and cite joint work on Iran as an example of good cooperation between powers.
But switching on the Bushehr plant could still dismay some in the United States, Israel and Europe who are deeply suspicious of Iran's intentions.
Russia agreed to build the plant in 1995 on the site of an earlier project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The Siemens' project was disrupted by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Work on readying the reactor for start up has been complicated by having to integrate German infrastructure that was as much as 25 years old, Kiriyenko said.
"We are working to integrate the old equipment, it is a unique project that no-one has ever done before — we are integrating in the project old German infrastructure that was delivered 25 years ago,"
"The absolute priority is security. No matter how many times we need to prepare for a safe start up we will do it," he said.
Russia says the plant poses no proliferation risk as Iran will return all spent fuel rods to Russia.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)