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. Launch date to be set for Iran's first nuclear plant
TEHRAN, Feb 24 (AFP) Feb 24, 2009
Iran and Russia will announce on Wednesday a date for the Islamic republic's first nuclear power plant to go operational, the official IRNA news agency reported.

"The exact date for the start of operations at Bushehr nuclear plant will be announced at the plant on Wednesday," the spokesman for Russia's federal nuclear agency, Sergei Novikov, told IRNA in Moscow.

Iran plans to carry out a dry run on Wednesday at the much-delayed 1,000-megawatt plant which it has been building in the Gulf port of Bushehr with Russian assistance.

Novikov stressed that the operation would involve "virtual fuel not nuclear fuel rods".

Iran announced on Sunday that it planned to "pre-commission" the plant this week without specifying what the operation entailed.

Russia took over construction of the plant in 1994 but completion has been delayed due to a number of factors, particularly Western accusations that Iran's nuclear programme is cover for a weapons drive, something Tehran strongly denies.

Novikov said that the chief of the Russian nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, had already left Moscow to attend Wednesday's function in Bushehr.

Earlier this month, Kiriyenko said the actual "technical launch" of the plant was possible before the end of 2009 if there were no delays caused by "unforeseen circumstances."

The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in its latest report on Iran released last week, said it has been informed by Tehran that the loading of the fuel into the reactor is scheduled to take place only during the second quarter of 2009.

The fuel, supplied by Moscow, is currently under IAEA seal.

All the main equipment at Bushehr has been installed by Russian contractor Atomstroiexport.

The start-up of the plant, as and when it happens, will be a leap forward in Iran's efforts to develop nuclear technology.

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