Russia gives no exact date for launch of Iran nuclear plant

Russia once again refrained to give an exact date for the launch of the much-delayed Bushehr nuclear power plant built jointly with Iran in the south of the Islamic Republic, dpa reported.

"It is not possible to give an exact date for the launching of the Bushehr power plant as first the results of the initial tests should be thoroughly evaluated," Russia's nuclear energy chief Sergei Kiriyenko said in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh at the plant's site in Bushehr.

Iran and Russia on Wednesday performed what they called an initial test of the plant witnessed by Kiriyenko and Aqazadeh.

The test of the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor was effected with "virtual fuel" as Bushehr's nuclear fuel remains under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seals.

Lead was used instead of uranium in the fuel rods, officials in Bushehr said.

"Without the results, it would be irresponsible to start even the next testing phase," Kiriyenko said through an interpreter.

In contradiction to Kiriyenko's remarks, Aqazadeh had said earlier Wednesday that with the accomplishment of the test, "we can already talk about the completion of the plant within a few months."

Several efforts by Iranian reporters to get an exact date triggered Kiriyenko's anger, forcing Aqazadeh to interfere, saying at least some seven months would be needed for getting the results.

Tehran had become sceptical of Russian promises to finish the plant as the joint project was originally scheduled to be completed at the beginning of the millennium, but has been delayed at least five times for various reasons, including political considerations.

Kiriyenko rejected criticism and said that the plant was not an ordinary project because Russia took over the relevant technology from a German firm, which had started the project in the mid 1970s, and had to make it compatible with Russian technology.

"What we have removed today was the concern [inside Iran] that the plant will be finished in time," said Aqazadeh, who is also an Iranian vice-president.

He was referring to speculation that Russia had intentionally delayed the completion of the Bushehr plant due to political considerations and Western concerns.

The deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Saeidi, told the Khabar news network that the test was for removing any errors prior to the main test which would then be effected with real uranium.

"We have received 87 tons of low-enriched uranium from Russia which we will then use within three parts, each part sufficient for one year," Saeidi said.

Kiriyenko had called the test an important step before launching the 1,000-megawatt plant later this year, intended to correct technical errors prior to the main launch.

Despite concern in the West over Iran's nuclear programmes, the light-water project in Bushehr is tolerated due to Russia's involvement and guarantees that nuclear fuel for the plant will be delivered from and nuclear waste returned to Russia.

"The Bushehr project is not affected by any political considerations and compatible with all international regulations," Kiriyenko said.

"Of course the plant should be fully supervised by the IAEA and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should be respected as well," the Russian official added.

Iran says that its nuclear projects are just for civilian purposes while the West is concerned that Iran is clandestinely pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

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