Jan 29, 2008

Russia Completes Fuel Deliveries to Iran's First Nuclear Plant

RIA Novosti

Russia delivered early on Monday the final batch of a fuel shipment to the Bushehr nuclear power plant it is building in southern Iran, the Islamic Republic's nuclear officials said.

With the eighth delivery of five metric tons, Russia has supplied a total of 82 metric tons of low-enriched uranium to the light-water nuclear power plant, which has been the focus of international attention over fears Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

The first delivery to the plant, being built by Russian contractor Atomstroyexport, arrived on December 16, 2007 following months of project delays that Moscow attributed to payment arrears, but which Iran blamed on pressure from Western nations.

Under a bilateral intergovernmental contract, Russia has agreed to deliver 82 metric tons of nuclear fuel, divided into eight shipments. Deliveries were monitored by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Atomstroyexport confirmed on Friday the final delivery of nuclear fuel to Bushehr NPP.

"The final, eighth, batch of fuel has been delivered to the nuclear plant in Bushehr," the company's spokesperson Irina Yesipova said.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham earlier said Tehran expects bilateral relations to substantially improve as a result of the fuel deliveries.

"Russia and Iran maintain good, developing relations. The deliveries of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant are also a good pretext for boosting cooperation between our countries," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who has led international calls for sanctions against Iran over its refusal to freeze its nuclear program, said last month that he supported the start of Russia's enriched uranium deliveries to the Islamic Republic, and that Tehran no longer has any excuse to develop its own enrichment capabilities.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed Bush's comments in late December, saying it would not be economically viable for Iran to continue its uranium enrichment program.

However, Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali-Hamenei insisted earlier this month that Tehran would continue enriching uranium for future nuclear power plants.

Western nations fear Iran seeks to produce nuclear weapons, but Tehran insists it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Two sets of UN Security Council sanctions are currently in place against Tehran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

The five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany agreed on January 22 at talks in Berlin on a draft for new measures against the Islamic Republic, strengthening two previous rounds of sanctions but falling short of the punitive steps proposed by Washington. The draft was circulated on Friday in the Security Council and may be discussed by the end of this week.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said last Saturday that Tehran was hoping that the UN Security Council would not pass new sanctions against the country.

"We hope that the Security Council will not make the wrong decisions, knowing that there are no grounds for doing so," the IRNA news agency quoted Mottaki as saying on the sidelines of an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.

He reiterated that last year the IAEA issued a generally positive report on Tehran's cooperativeness with UN inspectors, and a U.S. intelligence community report stated that the country had dropped nuclear weapons research several years ago.

Tehran plans to hold tenders for the construction of 19 new nuclear reactors and to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity at its NPPs in the next two decades.