The showdown over Iran’s nuclear program is likely to accelerate in 2013 as sanctions tighten, Israel threatens military strikes, and the centrifuges keep spinning. While most attention will be focused on the two most oft-discussed sites of uranium enrichment — Natanz and Fordow — a third site on the gulf could prove to be this year’s most dangerous nuclear wild card.
Tucked between two sleepy coastal fishing villages, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has long been seen as the “acceptable” face of Iran’s nuclear program. Built by Russian engineers and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is already producing electricity, and most nuclear experts agree that it does not merit the same level of concern over weaponization as Iran’s other nuclear sites.
Bushehr, however, could turn out to be the most dangerous piece of Iran’s nuclear puzzle for another reason: haphazard planning and ongoing technical problems mean it could be the next Chernobyl, igniting a humanitarian disaster and explosive economic damage across the oil-rich region.
Technical problems in the past 12 months have raised serious concerns about Iran’s capacity to competently operate the facility. The plant was shut down in October to limit potential damage following the discovery of stray bolts found beneath its fuel cells, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a Russian industry source. Western officials expressed concern about the plant after an I.A.E.A report in November stated that Iran had informed the agency about unexpected fuel transfers. Last week, the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, called upon Tehran to work more closely with the I.A.E.A. “to ensure the safety of the region’s state and its people.”
Meanwhile, Russian scientists have delayed the transfer of operations to their Iranian counterparts. That is now expected to occur in March.
Iran’s first nuclear power plant has started adding electricity to the national grid, media reported on Sunday, coming on stream on Saturday night after years of delays.
“The Bushehr nuclear power plant joined the national grid on Saturday at 23:29 (1859 GMT) with the power of around 60 megawatts,” the ISNA news agency reported.
Hamid-Khadem Qaemi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization, told Iran’s Arabic language TV station al-Alam the plant would be officially inaugurated by September 12, by which time it would be operating at 40 percent capacity.
The agency was not immediately available to comment.
The $1-billion, 1,000-megawatt plant on the Gulf coast is the first of what Iran hopes will become a network of nuclear facilities that will reduce its reliance on its abundant fossil fuels.
Started by Germany’s Siemens in the 1970s before Iran’s Islamic revolution, the project was later taken over by Russian engineers and has since suffered a series of delays.
As the world hopes Iran will change their nuclear program with talks & sanctions, their nuclear dreams continue full steam ahead.
Iranian media report workers have begun loading fuel into the core of the country’s first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr. The process began in August, but was delayed due to a leak in a storage pool.
Top Iranian officials watched as fuel began being loaded into the Bushehr nuclear power plant Tuesday.
Footage of the opening of the plant from Iranian television
Iran has begun loading fuel into its first nuclear power station in a ceremony attended by Russian officials.
Russia will operate the Bushehr plant in southern Iran, supplying its nuclear fuel and taking away the nuclear waste.
Iran has been subject to four rounds of UN sanctions because of its separate uranium enrichment programme.
Experts say that as long as the plant is Russian-operated, there is little immediate threat of its fuel being diverted to make bombs.
From Washington, the US state department said that it saw no “proliferation risk” from the plant. The UK also said had “always respected” Iran’s right to civilian nuclear power.