Russian officials attended the ceremony held as Iran has begun loading fuel into its first nuclear power station. (photo from aljazeera.net)
The Bushehr plant in southern Iran will be operated by Russia : the country will supply its nuclear fuel and take away the nuclear waste.
Iranian’s separate uranium enrichment programme put the country through four rounds of UN sanctions.
According to experts, as long as the plant is Russian-operated, there is little immediate threat of its fuel being diverted to make bombs.
In Washington, the US state department said that it saw no “proliferation risk” from the plant. The UK also said they had “always respected” Iran’s right to civilian nuclear power.
It’s taken 35 years to build the Bushehr facility and has been plagued by delays.
“Despite all pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by western nations, we are now witnessing the startup of the largest symbol of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities,” Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told journalists at the plant.
Iranian officials presented the launch as a victory for the Islamic republic against its enemies. The event will be marked by nationwide celebrations.
But Professor Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, said Tehran was likely to exaggerate the importance of the start-up at Bushehr.
“It will obviously have a very theatrical opening but the delays have meant that the power plant is a very old model and the contribution to the national grid is very small,” he said.
Medical research reactor
In Washington, reports suggested that the US lifted its objections to the completion of the plant at Bushehr in exchange for Russia’s vote in the latest round of sanctions against Iran.
BBC’s correspondent said that Western officials have been changing their tune recently, describing Bushehr as an example of the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy, to which Iran is entitled.
Experts said that the Bushehr plant should begin producing electricity in about a month.
The nuclear power station is not seen by analysts as posing a significant proliferation risk.
It will use an uranium fuel well below the enrichment level needed for a nuclear weapon. Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched by more than 90%, while the uranium at Bushehr is enriched by 3.5%.
Though Iran is already producing its own uranium enriched to fuel grade, the Bushehr fuel has been supplied by Russia.
However Iran has also begun a pilot program to enrich uranium to 20%, arguing that it is needed for a medical research reactor.
It is that programme that has alarmed the West and Israel.
Although Iran insists its plans are for peaceful energy production, the West fears Tehran wants to build a nuclear weapon.
On Friday, in a defiant statement the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi said the country would continue uranium enrichment, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
Referring to the Bushehr plant, he said: “Suppose we receive the required nuclear fuel for the plant from the Russians for the next 10 years, what are we going to do for the next 30 to 50 years?”
He also said that once the necessary centrifuges are installed at the site, Iran could produce up to 30 tons of enriched uranium at its Natanz plant (map, from bbcimg.co.uk).