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. A history of delays: Iran's first nuclear power plant
TEHRAN, Dec 17 (AFP) Dec 17, 2007
The delivery of nuclear fuel from Russia is an apparent breakthrough for Iran's first nuclear power plant, a project dating to before the Islamic revolution that has been the victim of repeated delays.

The project to build the plant in the southern port city of Bushehr was first launched by the shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in the 1970s using contractors from German firm Siemens.

But it was shelved when he was deposed by the Islamic revolution in 1979.

The unfinished power station then lay almost forgotten in the humid southern city throughout the 1980s as the Islamic republic focused its energies on crushing internal opposition and the 1980-1988 war against Iraq.

But the project was revived after the death of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 as new supreme leader Ali Khamenei and his first president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani emerged as supporters of the project.

Throughout the early 1990s, Iran began to search for aid to revive the project, receiving a blunt refusal from its erstwhile partners in Germany who were worried about proliferation risks.

Despite being the world's number four crude oil producer and having the second largest gas reserves, Iran insists it needs nuclear power to sustain a growing population whose fossil fuels will run out in the next decades.

"If a nation does not care about the future of its energy, it must remain dependent on the domineering powers," Khamenei told Iranians this year.

In 1995, Iran found help from Russia which also agreed to fuel the plant as well as complete construction, with the supply deal committing Iran to returning any spent material.

The deal was finally signed in January 1995 after 18 months of negotiations and the agreement of numerous preliminary accords.

But that was just the start of a new history of delays and setbacks, as the Russian contractor was repeatedly forced to put back the dates for the completion of the plant and sending of fuel.

Most recently, the Russian contractor Atomstroiexport accused Iran of falling behind in its payments for the plant, further putting its completion in jeopardy.

Iranian officials meanwhile voiced concern that Moscow was playing for time to avoid the ire of the United States when the plant was completed.

"I'm astonished. Maybe the Iranian leadership isn't completely informed, but there's an impression the Iranian side has lost interest in the construction," Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Russia's nuclear energy agency, said in March.

"It is deplorable that there has been a delay in launching the Bushehr plant," the then top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani retorted. "The Russians should keep their promises on time."

Last week, however, Russia said the two sides had now resolved all disputes holding up construction and agreed a timetable for the plant's completion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a visit to Iran this year, blamed "old worn-out equipment" dating back to the time when Siemens engineers were working on the project for the delays in completing the nuclear power plant.

"The equipment left from that time is worn out, old and new equipment should be used. This is one of the problems preventing swift completion of the work in Bushehr," he said.

Russia's involvement in the project has not been welcomed by the United States, which accuses Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons under the guise of the civilian electricity programme.

But Iran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful and Russia has said there is nothing to prove Western suspicions over its nature.

The finished power station will have a pressurised water reactor with a power of 1,000 Megawatts which requires a fuel of enriched uranium.

It is being built by more than 1,000 Russian engineers and workers who live in a village entirely reserved for them near the power station.

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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