Iran Opens Its First Nuclear Power Plant

Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear-power plant in southern Iran was opened in a ceremony Saturday.

By WILL YONG and ANDREW E. KRAMER

TEHRAN — Thirty-six years after construction began under the shah,Iran finally opened its first nuclear power plant at a ceremony on Saturday.

Attended by senior officials from Iran and Russia, the ceremony marked the beginning of the transfer of low-enriched uranium fuel rods from a storage site into the plant.

Officials of both countries said Saturday’s events signified the opening, not the startup, of the plant near Bushehr, in southern Iran, as a working nuclear plant.

“This is a special day for both Russian and Iranian specialists,” the chief of Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear power company, Sergei Kiriyenko, said, shaking hands and smiling with his Iranian counterparts, in television reports broadcast in Russia, which helped build the station through years of concern by the West that Iran was using its civilian program to mask a plan to build a bomb.

And it is one sure to upset United States diplomats who had encouraged Russia to delay the opening, though they have not objected to the project as it could be seen as helping to bring Iran’s nuclear program fully under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Kiriyenko, speaking to members of the news media in an amphitheater of the Bushehr complex, took pains to emphasize, as Russians have for years, that the plant complied with the agency’s requirements. “Not a single professional in the world has any questions about the chance that the Bushehr nuclear power plant could be used for nonpeaceful purposes,” he said.

Russia also announced what seemed to be a new safeguard. Its technicians will jointly operate the station for two to three years under an agreement signed Saturday before the opening ceremony, Mr. Kiriyenko said, gradually handing over the controls to the Iranians.

He also announced that Russia would provide Iran with iodine and molybdenum, nuclear isotopes used in medicine. It was unclear what effect this would have on efforts to dissuade Iran from enriching uranium to a higher grade than is needed in electrical power plants so that it could be used in a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes.

Technicians from Russia, who took over work at the Bushehr site in the mid-1990s, will be moving the rods, which contain tons of uranium, for several weeks. Iranian television said that task would be completed by Sept. 5.

After the transfer, more time will be required to load them into the stainless-steel core and lower them to begin the nuclear reaction, Russian nuclear officials have said; only later this year will the plant begin producing electricity, Mr. Kiriyenko said.

Russia seemed to have engineered the construction schedule, already delayed for years, for leverage to encourage Iran to abandon a domestic program for enriching uranium. Russia has promised to provide all the fuel the plant will require and has demanded return of spent fuel.

Will Yong reported from Tehran, and Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow.

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