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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs