News / Middle East

Iran's New Nuclear Power Plant to be Closely Monitored

The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant (file photo)
The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant (file photo)

Russian scientists are loading a nuclear reactor in southern Iran with enriched uranium in a process expected to make the facility fully operational within a matter of months.

Though the Bushehr facility is the first large-scale nuclear power reactor in Iran, its history goes back more than three decades - long before Iran's current Islamist government took power.

"The nuclear program in Iran goes back to the days of the Shah," said Ivan Oelrich, with the Federation of American Scientists, "and was strongly supported by the United States and the Western powers, although we did have questions even during the reign of the Shah: maybe he wanted nuclear weapons and we were a bit concerned about that."

Workers began building the Bushehr facility in 1975 under a contract signed with the German company Siemens. But four years later, the project was halted.

"At the end of the Shah's regime," said Oelrich, "he had financial problems. And when the [Islamic] revolution occurred and the mullahs took over, they canceled the program because they thought this was just sort of a way for the West to get money out of Iran."

Bushehr lay idle until 1995, when the Russians took over its construction. The nuclear power plant should have been completed in 1999. But analysts said the project was slowed by financial problems, technical glitches and contract disputes - as well as the uneasy relationship between Tehran and Moscow.

Last August, Russia transported nuclear fuel to Iran and analysts felt loading the fuel into the reactor's core was imminent. But the process was delayed several months due to a leak in the reactor's basin.

There were also problems with Bushehr's computer systems, but Iranian officials denied that they were caused by Stuxnet, a sophisticated computer virus that Western experts said seemed to target facilities in Iran.

"If it [the computer virus] was something maliciously inserted by foreigners, it would not be targeted at Bushehr, but rather at the facilities that are enriching uranium and other parts of the Iranian nuclear complex," said Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association, a private research firm.

Though some in the West have expressed concerns about why oil-rich Iran would need a nuclear power reactor, experts have pointed out that Russians would remain in complete control of the facility, at least the time being.

"The Russians will run the reactor for the first two years - until they can train an Iranian crew to run the reactor," said Oelrich.  "There are Iranians there to learn, but the Russians right now are running the show."

The overall agreement between Moscow and Tehran runs for a decade. The Russians "will provide all of the fuel going into the reactor " said Thielmann, "and when the fuel is spent - that is when they can no longer be used to generate electricity - they will remove it again. And the removal is very important, because it is the spent fuel from which plutonium can be extracted that is a bomb-grade material that can go into weapons."

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is supervising activities at Bushehr from beginning to end.

"They [the IAEA] will have an accounting system basically," said Thielmann, "and a monitoring system that records the amount of fuel going in, the amount of spent fuel going out and other aspects of the operation at Bushehr. We certainly seem to have enough measures in place that there's little risk of diverting the nuclear activities there to a weapons program."

Other analysts agree.

"If there is any attempt to divert material," said Oelrich, "not only will the Russians know but the IAEA would know about that. That is not a simple thing to do. Once this reactor fires up, the fuel rods will be intensely radioactive. You can't take one of these fuel rods and slip it under your shirt and walk out the door. It's a major deal handling these things and it can't be done surreptitiously."

Iranian officials have said they expect Bushehr to be fully operational - that is generating electricity - by mid-February. Analysts said the power plant will ultimately generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity. According to Oelrich, Bushehr would produce 3 percent of Iran's total electricity needs. If it were in the West, Oelrich said Bushehr would provide electricity for about one million households.

Western countries do not see the Bushehr power plant as a threat - a view recently repeated by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr," she told reporters. "Our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program," she said.

Natanz is Iran's principal facility for enriching uranium.

"The Iranians say that Qom would be another facility to enrich uranium," said Thielmann. "There is also the Arak heavy water reactor . . . and that is something that could, down the road, be a source of plutonium for weapons."

Iran has consistently stated that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. But Western nations have long suspected Tehran of wanting to build a nuclear weapon. Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed four sets of resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran, calling on Tehran to provide information about its suspected nuclear weapons program - but to no avail.

Thielmann said the problem with Iran is "the transparency of Iranian activities in the nuclear program, so that they can convince the world that they are only developing peaceful nuclear power and not developing nuclear weapons."

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs