News / Middle East

Bushehr Nuclear Plant Located in Earthquake-Prone Iran

The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (file photo)
The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (file photo)


Iran has finished building its first nuclear power plant, at Bushehr, on the coast of the Persian Gulf.  It is expected to be operational later this year. In this second segment of our Nuclear Safety series, we look at the design and construction of Bushehr, and how this facility differs from the Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima that has suffered major damage in the wake of a massive earthquake.

Northern Japan's massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami left the Fukushima nuclear power plant unable to run its cooling pumps and other safety systems.  Within days, three buildings housing nuclear reactors suffered major explosions.  And, radiation has been released.

Japan is well-known for earthquakes. Its nuclear power industry has said earthquake safety was included in its facility designs.  But recent events have shown that the best of plans sometimes cannot overcome the forces of nature.

Half a world away, another country, Iran, is also well known for earthquakes. Over the years, tens of thousands of people there have died in massive tremors.

Now, Iran is moving into the nuclear age. Its first nuclear power plant, located at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf coast, has been completed. It could begin operating soon.

Construction of Bushehr began in 1974, but was halted by the 1979 Islamic Revolution.  The plant was attacked and damaged in the eight year Iran-Iraq war.  Construction finally resumed in 1995, with Russia taking over from the German company Siemens.

Engineering Professor Muhammad Sahimi, at the University of Southern California, says the threat of earthquakes was carefully considered when the location was selected.  

"The first thing the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran did was extensive studies in terms of the safety of a nuclear reactor from the perspective of earthquakes," noted Sahimi.  "Usually, a nuclear reactor is built in an area where the possibility of a major earthquake is very small.  As far as I know, there is no major active fault in southern Iran where the Bushehr reactor has been built."

The single Russian VVER-1000 reactor installed at Bushehr, with roughly 1,000 megawatts power output, is comparable to its western counterparts.

Senior nuclear scientist Upendra Rohatgi at the U.S. government's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York is very familiar with this type of reactor.

"The VVER-1000 is the latest Russian design, which is equal to western designs for pressurized water reactors," noted Rohatgi.  "They all have the same safety systems, VVER and the western side [designs], and they all have very good containment systems."

Bushehr's reactor is a completely different design from the much older type that exploded at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.  The Iranian reactor, unlike the ones at Chernobyl, is completely encased in a massive concrete and steel containment vessel.

The containment vessel is designed to keep radiation from contaminating the environment should an accident take place. It has multiple layers to provide that protection, as well as strength to stop an impact or explosion from either inside or outside the structure.

Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant has a similar multiple-layer design.  But there are fears that despite the design, at least one reactor containment vessel may have been breached.  That, observers say, would account for at least some of the radiation that has been released.

In the next segment of this series, we'll take a look at the operational and safety training of nuclear plant workers, including those at Bushehr.  Click here for part 1.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs