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Iran to Unload Fuel from Bushehr Reactor for Testing

Iran's ambassador to the U.N.'s IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, January 20, 2011

Iran has confirmed it will have to remove fuel from the nuclear reactor at its Bushehr power plant, a new setback for the Russian-built plant that has already been plagued by decades of delay.

The country's state-run ISNA news agency quoted the Iranian envoy to the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying Russia had requested the fuel be unloaded for tests and technical measures. He said the fuel will be reloaded after the tests are conducted.

Soltanieh did not explain the nature of the technical concerns, but said Iran always gives priority to the safety of the plant according to the highest global standards.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will supervise the fuel unloading process, and mentioned in a confidential report obtained by news agencies Friday that Iran informed it of the need to remove the fuel on Wednesday.

Production at the Bushehr plant has been hampered by a computer virus known as Stuxnet, but Iranian officials have said it did not affect the plant's major systems. Security experts believe the virus was the work of Israel and the United States.

The fuel removal could be a major setback for Iran's nuclear program, which is under intense international scrutiny due to Western suspicions Iran is pursuing nuclear technology to be able to build a nuclear weapon.

The new IAEA report said the Vienna-based agency has received information adding to concerns about possible military aspects to Iran's nuclear program. But Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.