Iran starts loading fuel rods into reactor of first nuclear power plant

Iran began the process of loading 163 fuel rods into the reactor core of its first nuclear power plant on Tuesday, celebrating the achievement as proof that Tehran can outmanoeuvre international sanctions.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran began the process of loading 163 fuel rods into the reactor core of its first nuclear power plant on Tuesday, celebrating the achievement as proof that Tehran can outmanoeuvre international sanctions.

The plant, built with Russian help in the southern port city of Bushehr, is not among the aspects of Iran’s nuclear program that are of top concern to the international community and is not directly subject to sanctions. It has international approval and is supervised by the U.N.’s nuclear monitoring agency.

Nevertheless, Iran has touted its startup as an act of defiance in the face of the penalties and has held up the plant as evidence that it only has peaceful nuclear intentions. The United States and some of its allies believe Bushehr and Iran’s other civil nuclear work is providing cover for a secret weapons program under development.

“The great Iranian nation can manage the sanctions with its resistance, efforts and endeavours and this is its proof,” Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi told a news conference broadcast on state TV.

The U.N. Security Council has slapped four rounds of sanctions against Iran over a separate track of its nuclear program — its enrichment of uranium, which can be a gateway to developing atomic weapons.

Iran denies such an intention and says it only seeks to master the technology to produce fuel for a planned network of nuclear power facilities, starting with Bushehr.

On Tuesday, Iran loaded the first three fuel assemblies into the plant’s reactor core, beginning a process that will take two months, said Salehi, who is also head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

The facility is expected to begin supplying electricity to the grid by mid-February.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made it clear Tuesday that Washington sees a distinction between Bushehr and other nuclear tracks it suspects are meant to give Tehran potential pathways to weapons.

“Iran is entitled to the peaceful use of nuclear power,” she said after speaking at a U.N. Security Council meeting to promote women’s participation in peacekeeping. “They are not entitled to a nuclear weapons program.”

She said she was hopeful that Iran would agree to resume negotiations over the other aspects of its nuclear work.

The European Union has proposed a new round of talks with Iran in Vienna in mid-November with the participation of the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany. The negotiations foundered a year ago, leading to the fourth round of U.N. sanctions.

The 1,000 megawatt Bushehr plant had been expected to start producing power by November, but a leak in a storage pool delayed the process.

Iranian officials denied the delay had any link to a complex and destructive computer worm, known as Stuxnet, that has swept through industrial sites in Iran and several other countries.

The malicious computer code, designed to take control of power plants and other large facilities, infected several personal laptops belonging to employees at Bushehr, though officials said no plant systems were affected.

Iran said it believed the computer worm was part of a Western plot to sabotage its nuclear program.

Who created the Stuxnet code and what its precise target is, if any, remains a mystery.

Around the same time, Iran acknowledged that some personnel at its nuclear facilities had been lured by promises of money to pass secrets to the West but insisted increased security had put a stop to the spying.

At Bushehr, soldiers maintain a 24-hour watch on roads leading up to the plant, manning anti-aircraft guns and supported by numerous radar stations.

The Bushehr project was beset by numerous obstacles. It dates backs to 1974, when Iran’s U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.

In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995.

Under the contract, Bushehr was originally scheduled to come online in July 1999 but the startup has been delayed repeatedly by construction and supply glitches.

Moscow has cited technical reasons for the delays, but Iranian officials have sporadically criticized Russia, some calling Moscow an “unreliable partner.”

The U.S. recently withdrew its long-standing opposition to the plant after Russia satisfied concerns over how it would be fueled and the fate of the spent fuel rods.

Under a deal signed in 2005, Russia will provide nuclear fuel to Iran, then take back the spent fuel, a step meant as a safeguard to ensure it cannot be diverted into a weapons program. Iran has also agreed to allow the U.N.’s nuclear agency to monitor Bushehr and the fuel deliveries.

The United States says the fuel deal with Russia shows Tehran does not need to enrich its own uranium, but Iran maintains it will build other nuclear power plants and has to have its own fuel source.

Iran is already producing its own nuclear fuel — uranium enriched to about 3.5 per cent. It also has started a pilot program of enriching uranium to 20 per cent, which officials say is needed for a medical research reactor.

Weapons grade material has to be enriched to 90 per cent.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Energy Minister Sonya Savage speaks during an event to mark the start of right-of-way construction for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, in Acheson, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. A committee that is supposed to consult Albertans on coal development in the Rocky Mountains won't be able to ask questions about water or land use. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta coal consultation terms of reference rule out land use, water concerns

Alberta coal consultation terms of reference rule out land use, water concerns

Brittany Lausen, RDC Students’ Association president. (Advocate file photo).
RDC Students’ Association takes aim at ‘period poverty’ in Red Deer

Vulnerable clients of several non-profits can access free hygiene products

A voter is shown at a Whitehorse polling station during the Yukon election on Monday April 12, 2021. An official count has confirmed a tie in the Yukon election, pushing the process to the next step of a judicial recount. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Kelly
Official count confirms tie in Yukon election, application filed for judicial recount

WHITEHORSE — An official count has confirmed a tie in the Yukon… Continue reading

Lieutenant Commander Nicole Robichaud welcomes members of the Liberian Coast Guard aboard the HMCS Moncton for training with Royal Canadian Navy off the coast of Monrovia, Liberia, Africa. (Contributed photo by Corp. Ryan Moulton)
Red Deer-raised woman finds her sea legs as commander in the Royal Canadian Navy

Cdr. Nicole Robichaud started out as a local sea cadet

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Britain’s Prince Charles, with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visits the gardens of Marlborough House, London, Thursday April 15, 2021, to look at the flowers and messages left by members of the public outside Buckingham Palace, following the death of Prince Philip. (Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via AP)
Princes William, Harry won’t walk side-by-side at funeral

LONDON — Prince William and Prince Harry won’t walk side-by-side Saturday as… Continue reading

Tilray products such as capsules, oils, and dried marijuana are displayed at their head office in Nanaimo, B.C., on November 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Vote by Tilray shareholders on Aphria merger deal delayed until April 30

NANAIMO, B.C. — A vote by Tilray Inc. shareholders on the cannabis… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adjusts his mask as Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson answers a reporter's question during an announcement on the government's updated climate change plan in the Dominion Arboretum in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Wilkinson urges opposition leaders to stop stalling net-zero carbon emissions bill

OTTAWA — Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is urging opposition leaders to end… Continue reading

Gwynne Dyer
Opinion: Biden’s words have no meaning

“If they go, we’ll all have to go. That’s the reality of… Continue reading

opinion
Shadow pandemic: Domestic violence has risen worldwide

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating mark on communities across the… Continue reading

LtE bug
Letter: MLAs expected to toe the party line

I am writing this letter to express my disappointment with my MLA… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green, top centre, prepares to begin practice during the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, on Friday, January 8, 2021. Media have been barred from the Vancouver Canucks first practice since a COVID-19 outbreak swept through the team. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver Canucks’ next game postponed, delaying return from COVID-19 outbreak

Vancouver Canucks’ next game postponed, delaying return from COVID-19 outbreak

Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers (27) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs with teammate Mathieu Perreault (85) as Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) skates past during first-period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday, April 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ehlers scores two as Jets chase Campbell early, down Maple Leafs

Ehlers scores two as Jets chase Campbell early, down Maple Leafs

Most Read