Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Iran begins fuelling Bushehr nuclear reactor
Iran on Tuesday began fuelling the reactor core of its Russian-built nuclear power plant while saying the content, date and venue of new talks with the big powers on its atomic programme have yet to be agreed.
"Today, the plant is going through the sensitive phase of loading fuel in the core... We hope that the electricity produced by the Bushehr nuclear plant will be connected to the national grid in three months' time," state television reported atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.
"Bushehr power plant is one of the world's exceptional plants... I am optimistic about the future and, with the commissioning of this plant, we will witness the construction of other plants in different areas of our country."
The transfer of fuel into the facility began on August 21 in a process that was described as the "physical launch" of the power plant by Russia, which took over construction of the complex in the mid 1990s.
Rich in both oil and gas, Iran says it needs the plant to meet a growing demand for electricity.
Tuesday's announcement takes Iran a step closer to putting its first nuclear power plant on stream.
Moscow has supplied 82 tonnes of fuel for Bushehr and also plans to reprocess the spent material.
Contractors from Germany's Siemens began work on the Bushehr plant in the 1970s under the rule of the US-backed shah, but the project was shelved when the shah was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
It was revived a decade later under current supreme leader Ali Khamenei and, in 1994, Russia agreed to complete its construction.
Tehran, at loggerheads with the West over its controversial nuclear drive, also said on Tuesday that the content, date and venue of mooted new talks with six major powers on its nuclear programme have yet to be finalised.
"We are hopeful that through exchange of views by both parties, we would come to an agreement regarding date, venue and more importantly content and agenda of this negotiation," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference on Tuesday.
In remarks translated into English by Iran's Press TV channel, Mottaki acknowledged that the "political will" for talks existed among both parties.
He was speaking after European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton proposed on Friday that the negotiations be held November 15-17 in Vienna.
Iran has always insisted that the talks be held on the basis of a package of proposals it gave the major powers before the last round of talks last October. The package does not explicitly talk of its atomic programme.
In a letter to Iran on Friday, Ashton insisted that the "main focus" of the talks be the "question of the Iranian nuclear programme," which Western governments suspect is aimed at developing a weapons capability, an ambition Tehran strongly denies.
Ashton represents six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in the negotiations with Iran.
Iranian officials including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have broadly welcomed fresh talks, but a spokesman for Ashton said on Friday she was still waiting for Tehran's formal response.
Ahmadinejad and several lawmakers have laid down three conditions they say the major powers must answer during the negotiations.
Lawmakers say these were outlined to Ashton in a July letter by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
He told Ashton the world powers must say whether the talks are aimed at "engagement and cooperation or continued confrontation and hostility towards Iranians."
"Will you be committed to the logic of talks which calls for avoiding threats and pressure?" he asked, while also urging the six powers to state their "clear view" on the "Zionist regime's nuclear arsenal."
Israel, which has not ruled out taking military action against Iran over its nuclear programme, is widely believed to have the Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Iran is under four sets of United Nations sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, the most controversial part of its nuclear programme.