Last Updated: Thu Oct 28, 2010 18:04 pm (KSA) 15:04 pm (GMT)

Iran injects fuel into Bushehr nuclear reactor

A general view of the reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran (File)  
A general view of the reactor building at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran (File)

Iran began loading fuel into the core of its first nuclear power plant on Tuesday, moving closer to the start-up of a facility that the U.S. once hoped to stop over fears of Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Iranian and Russian engineers started moving nuclear fuel into the main Bushehr reactor building in August but a reported leak in a storage pool delayed injection of the fuel into the reactor.

"Fuel injection into the core of the reactor has begun," the state television announced.

The development comes as the United States and Europe seek to coax Tehran back into stalled talks about its nuclear enrichment activities which some countries fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Iran says the Russian-built 1,000-mw Bushehr plant will start producing energy in early 2011 after decades of delays and that the launch shows its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and not aimed at making an atomic bomb.

Iran insists it needs to enrich uranium -- material which can also be used to make weapons if refined much further -- to fuel future power stations and a medical research reactor.

Skepticism about Iran's real aims led to a new round of sanctions from the U.N. Security Council in June and tighter measures from Washington and the European Union.

Scheduled talks in Vienna

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the "P5+1" powers -- U.N. Security Council permanent members Russia, the United States, China, France and Britain, plus Germany -- has invited Iran for talks in Vienna from Nov. 15 to 17.

Iran has welcomed the offer of talks, but has not yet formally replied to the invitation. Officials have said they require clarification on what exactly the talks aim to achieve.

Tehran is showing no sign of backing down in the dispute, pressing ahead with enrichment activity despite the sanctions.

Officials have said the reactor will begin generating energy early next year, a delay of several months. Iranian officials denied speculation the global spread of the "Stuxnet" computer virus affected the start-up, although it did infect some computers.

Experts say that firing up the $1-billion plant will not take Iran any closer to building a nuclear bomb since Russia will supply the enriched uranium for the reactor and take away spent fuel which could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium.

"In theory, there are legitimate concerns that ostensibly civilian reactors can be used for nuclear weapons," said research associate Ivanka Barzashka of the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists.

"In practice, using Bushehr for weapons will be very difficult," she said, noting also that U.N. nuclear inspectors would detect any illicit diversion of nuclear material.

Iran says it plans to build 20 reactors in the next two decades, but Western analysts say this aim is unrealistic.

Clinton says no problem with Iran Bushehr atomic plant

The United States has no problem with Iran's Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor plant but with other sites where weapons work may be underway, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

"Our problem is not with their reactor at Bushehr, our problem is with their facilities at places like Natanz and their secret facility at Qom and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program," Clinton said.

"I heard some of the news coverage that, you know, oh my goodness the Iranians are starting their reactor. That is not the issue," she told reporters at a meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger.

"They are entitled to peaceful civilian nuclear power. They are not entitled to nuclear weapons," Clinton added.

Iranian officials said Bushehr showed Iran's nuclear plans were on track despite U.N., U.S. and European Union sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb uranium enrichment, which many countries fear is aimed at developing atomic bombs.

Spindelegger said that there were signs Iran was ready to come to the negotiating table. Clinton confirmed that Washington also hoped Tehran would resume negotiations with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on an offer of incentives in exchange for Iran halting enrichment.

She said she hoped that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton could soon launch "an in-depth negotiation (with Iran) over their nuclear program" on behalf of the six powers.

UN nuclear chief wants "concrete steps" from Iran

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog urged Iran on Tuesday to take "concrete steps" to allay international concerns about its disputed nuclear program.

"I am requesting Iran take concrete steps, concrete measures toward the full implementation of their obligations," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Amano told reporters after addressing university students in Moscow.

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