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)
TEXT SIZE - +

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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid