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. Iran seeks bids for two new nuclear plants
TEHRAN, April 15 (AFP) Apr 15, 2007
Iran on Sunday asked for bids to build two new nuclear power stations alongside a still unfinished facility in the south of the country, despite increasing Western pressure over its atomic drive.

"Iran is launching two tenders for the construction of two nuclear power stations of between 1,000 and 1,600 megawatts capacity in Bushehr," the director of production of nuclear energy, Ahmad Fayaz Bakhsh, told reporters.

The southern city of Bushehr is the location of Iran's first nuclear power plant, which is being built by a Russian contractor. However its completion, due for this year, has been held up by a string of delays.

Fayaz Bakhsh said Iran's atomic energy agency would hand over the tender offer documents on Sunday for publication in the press in the next days. The tender literature put the closing date for bids at August 8.

"There are already contacts with Russian and European firms. It is expected that construction would take between nine and 11 years," he said.

The cost of the new power plants, which will be built alongside the existing facility in Bushehr, will be between 1.4 billion and 1.7 billion dollars, he said.

The announcement of the tenders shows that Iran has no intention of surrendering its nuclear drive despite being slapped with two sets of UN sanctions over its refusal to halt sensitive atomic activities.

Western countries want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process used in the manufacture of nuclear fuel, over fears it could be diverted to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists it only wants to produce energy.

Iran has refused to give in to the demands and has pressed on with its nuclear programme, saying uranium enrichment has now reached an "industrial phase".

The plan for the first Bushehr plant envisages that Russia will deliver the nuclear fuel itself but the consignment has yet to arrive and Iran has said it wants to be self-sufficient in fuel production.

"Fuel would be produced through local and foreign production. As part of the 20-year economic plan, Iran intends to produce the fuel for two power stations," Fayaz Bakhsh said.

However foreign observers have raised questions about Iran's announcement that it can now enrich uranium on an industrial scale, pointing to a lack of information about how many uranium-enriching centrifuges it has installed.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said last week that Iran still had only installed "hundreds" of centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, well off its medium term goal of 3,000.

Iran's foreign ministry replied Sunday that ElBaradei would know the exact progress of Iran's nuclear programme when IAEA inspectors return home from an ongoing regular inspection visit to Natanz.

"The report will show our latest activities and will be a good thing as it will clear up ambiguities," said foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Iranian officials have repeatedly expressed frustration with Russia's failure to finish the Bushehr plant on time and hinted that US pressure on Moscow could be to blame. Russia accuses Iran of late payments.

A former Iranian MP and leading researcher into Russian issues, Elaheh Koulaei, cast doubt in an article on Sunday on whether Iran could rely on Russia in conflicts with the West.

"Are the Russians ready to defend us in our confrontations with the Europe and the US? What positions do the Russians hold in relations with us compared to their relations with Europe and the United States?" she said in the Etemad newspaper.


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