( AP ) - Iran - Russia's first shipment of nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant will strengthen strategic ties between Tehran and Moscow, a top nuclear official said Wednesday.
Iran received its first nuclear fuel from Russia on Monday after a long delay, paving the way for the startup of its 1000 megawatt Bushehr light-water reactor in 2008.
"With nuclear fuel shipped to Bushehr, we are going to see a new approach in deepening strategic relations with Russia in all fields in the future," Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran told the official IRNA news agency.After initial opposition, the U.S. now publicly supports Russia providing uranium fuel to Iran so long as Moscow retrieves the used reactor fuel for reprocessing, as stipulated in an agreement between Russia and Iran.
Iran, though, says it will continue its uranium enrichment activities at a separate facility, in the central city of Natanz, to provide fuel for another light-water 360-megawatt nuclear reactor being built in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.
Iran announced Monday it had started construction on the reactor using local technology. Tehran says the enrichment program is part of an effort to generate electricity, but the United States fears it will lead to weapons development.
A U.S. intelligence report earlier this month concluded Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it since. Tehran says it never had a weapons program.
Saeedi said Russia's shipment of nuclear fuel was made possible after a report last month by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had been truthful about its past uranium enrichment activities.
" Russia shipped that fuel on the basis of a contract with Iran ... and (after) it obtained confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran's past and present nuclear activities. IAEA's positive report also influenced the issue of fuel shipment," IRNA quoted Saeedi as saying.
According to Saeedi, the date for shipment of nuclear fuel to Iran was finalized during a landmark visit to Iran by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October.
Last month, Iran said it has reached a milestone in its uranium enrichment program, saying the country now has 3,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges fully operating at Natanz. The IAEA confirmed the Iranian announcement.
The number 3,000 is the commonly accepted figure for a nuclear enrichment program that is past the experimental stage and can be used as a platform for a full industrial-scale program.
Uranium enriched to low level is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for building weapons.
Iran says it plans to expand its enrichment program to up to 54,000 centrifuges at Natanz and is fully within its rights to pursue the enrichment to produce fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.