ARAB-EUROPEAN RELATIONS - Feb 27 - Iran And Russia Sign Nuclear Fuel Deal.
Russia and Iran sign a nuclear fuel supply deal long opposed by US,
paving the way for Iran to start up its first atomic reactor next year.
The agreement, inked by the two countries' nuclear energy chiefs at
the Bushehr atomic plant in southern Iran, comes as Tehran faced
heightened pressure from the US, which accuses it of secretly developing
nuclear weapons. Iran, OPEC's second largest oil producer, denies
the charge and has received strong backing from Moscow, which is keen to
play a major role in expanding Iran's nuclear energy programme.
"This is a very important incident in the ties between the two
countries and in the near future a number of Russian experts will be
sent to Bushehr to equip the power station", Iranian state TV
quoted Alexander Rumyantsev, head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy
Agency, as saying. A key part of the agreement obliges Tehran to
repatriate all spent nuclear fuel to Russia. Moscow hopes this will
allay US worries that Iran may use the spent fuel, which could be
reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium, to develop arms. The IAEA, which
has been probing Iran's nuclear programme for over two years, said
it would also keep a careful eye on Tehran's use of the fuel.
Spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said inspectors would "monitor closely
the use of the fuel and where it goes" as part of agency safeguards
monitoring aimed at ensuring no nuclear materials are diverted to any
covert weapons activities. Rumyantsev said Bushehr would start operating
in late 2006. "We are planning the physical launch at the end of
2006. About half a year before this the first delivery of fuel will take
place", the Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying. Iranian
officials put the plant's launch about six months earlier in
mid-2006. Diplomats in Tehran said they may have been referring to the
reactor's initial test phase. Rumyantsev said the first batch of
enriched uranium fuel was in Siberia ready to be shipped. Disagreements
over the timing of the shipment had delayed the deal. Tehran wanted
Russia to send the fuel earlier, Iranian officials said. Iran said long
delays in signing the agreement, which has been under negotiation for
more than two years, were technical and had nothing to do with pressure
exerted by Washington, which wants Russia to halt nuclear cooperation
with Iran. Once operational, Bushehr will generate 1,000 MW of
electricity. Initiated before Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and
badly damaged during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the project was later
revived with Russian help and has cost about $800m. Iran has announced
plans to build several more power plants, generating 7,000 MW from
nuclear power by 2021. Russia hopes to claim a significant share of this
new business. The Bushehr power station has aroused less concern in the
West than Iran's plans to produce its own nuclear fuel for future
reactors using uranium mined, processed and enriched inside the country.
The EU and US want Iran to scrap its uranium enrichment plans entirely.
Iran has refused but has suspended enrichment while it tries to reach a
negotiated settlement with the EU.