Iran has begun loading nuclear fuel into its controversial, Russian-built nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr. The official launch Saturday, which took place in the presence of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, comes more than 35 years after the plant was first planned. .
Iranian television showed Iran's nuclear energy head Ali Akbar Salehi and Russia's government nuclear corporation chief Sergei Kiriyenko touring the long-delayed Bushehr plant Saturday. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors were present as Russian engineers began the fuel injection process.
During a news conference, the two men hailed the long-awaited launch of the plant. Ali Akbar Salehi described the plant's launch as a political victory. He said that despite all the pressures, sanctions and other difficulties imposed by the West Saturday's launch demonstrated, in his words, "Iran's peaceful nuclear activities."
Kiriyenko said countries that abide by IAEA rules and regulations have a right to peaceful nuclear technology.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaqi agreed.
He says Iran would like to produce its own nuclear fuel to meet its own requirement. He says the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Tehran is a signatory, gives it the legitimate right to enrich uranium, which it needs for its peaceful nuclear program. He adds that if Iran has any extra fuel, it can give it to other countries via a fuel bank.
Iran initially launched plans for the Bushehr power plant with a German company in the early 1970s. However, the Germany company withdrew after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran continues to enrich uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility in defiance of international demands that it stop. Tehran has long insisted that it needs the fuel to produce electricity. The West disputes the claim, saying Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian nuclear energy chief Salehi defended his country's need for nuclear fuel, justifying Tehran's enrichment of uranium based on what he called bad experiences with France and Germany in supplying the fuel.
"We are looking for assurance of supply of fuel to the reactors," he said. "Unfortunately, we did not have good experiences with our previous partners, the Germans and the French… Unfortunately, they did not respond to their commitment as they should have done. That created an atmosphere of doubt in my country and was instrumental in making our government decide to have its own enrichment facilities in Iran."
Earlier this year Iran announced plans to produce 20 percent grade highly enriched uranium, which the West fears is an additional step towards producing nuclear weapons. Salehi said Tehran took the decision after the IAEA put conditions on supplying the fuel for the country's aging medical research reactor.
Salehi stressed that Iran would continue producing 20 percent grade uranium only until its needs are met.
Last October, western nations offered to supply Tehran with 20 percent uranium fuel in exchange for about 60 percent of its own supply of 3 percent enriched uranium. Iranian leaders refused to accept that deal.