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. Iran says Russian nuclear fuel could come within months
BUSHEHR, Iran (AFP) Jun 22, 2005
Iran could take delivery of Russian nuclear fuel to fire up its first nuclear power station within months, a senior atomic energy official said Wednesday.

"The site is 84 percent finished and will be completed towards the end of 2006," Assadollah Sabouri, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, told reporters taken on a visit of the site.

"The fuel is in Russia and ready to be transported, and it will be delivered soon but the exact date will remain confidential," he added.

Asked if it would arrive before the end of 2005, he replied: "God Willing, in a few months!"

Earlier this year Iran and Russia signed a landmark fuel accord that paves the way for the firing up of the station in southern Iran, a project the United States alleges is part of a cover for weapons development.

Under the deal, which capped an 800-million-dollar contract to build and bring the Bushehr plant on line, Russia will fuel the reactor on condition that Iran sends back spent fuel, which could potentially be upgraded to weapons use.

Sabouri asserted the arrangement left no room for Iran diverting the fuel to military purposes.

"Bushehr is entirely under the supervision of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The fuel will be verified before it is sent to Iran and the IAEA inspectors will be here to open the seals," he explained.

But the plant in southern Iran was still not yet ready to host the fuel, Sabouri added.

Washington is convinced that Iran is seeking to build atomic weapons -- charges Tehran denies -- and has been trying to convince Moscow to halt its nuclear cooperation.

Russian diplomats say the United States has been lobbying against Moscow's involvement in Iran's nuclear programme "on a daily basis" -- but Russia has stuck by the lucrative contract and an option to build a second reactor at Bushehr along with plants at other locations.

They say the huge contract has helped save Russia's atomic energy industry, but added that the condition that spent fuel be returned was a concession to Western concerns.

Tehran argues it needs to free up fossil fuels for export and meet increased energy demands from a burgeoning population.

Iran also intends to produce its own nuclear fuel for future plants -- hoped to produce 7,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 -- a drive at the centre of the current stand-off with the international community.

While Bushehr symbolises Iran's nuclear ambitions, of greater Western concern is its work on the nuclear fuel cycle elsewhere in the country -- currently frozen amid talks with the EU on finding a long-term arrangement.

Britain, France and Germany have been trying to persuade Tehran to permanently stop enriching uranium -- which can be directed to both civil and military uses -- in return for a package of incentives.

Enrichment for peaceful purposes is permitted under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Iran insists it only wants to enrich uranium to levels required for civil purposes.

A two-year probe by the IAEA has uncovered suspect activity by Iran, but no conclusive "smoking gun" to prove it has military plans for its programme.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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