Iran goes nuclear: Fears that regime plans to get bomb gather pace as Russian atomic reactor is startedBy Jason Lewis
Iran began loading fuel into its first nuclear power plant yesterday, amid continuing fears that the regime plans to build atomic weapons.
The Bushehr plant, which was created with Russian help, is expected to begin producing electricity within the next few weeks.
Moscow officials, who attended yesterday's opening ceremony in southern Iran, have promised safeguards to prevent any nuclear material from the site being used in weapons production.
Yesterday, Iran's nuclear chief claimed the plant was a defiant 'symbol of Iranian resistance and patience' in the face of Western pressure.
Ali Akbar Salehi, of the Atomic Energy Organisation, said: 'Despite all the pressure, sanctions and hardships imposed by Western nations, we're now witnessing the start-up of the largest symbol of Iran's peaceful nuclear activities.'
Despite his insistence that the country only wants a reliable energy source, the West fears Tehran is looking to build a nuclear weapon under the cover of a 'peaceful' energy programme.
Iran has been subject to four rounds of UN sanctions because of its separate uranium enrichment programme, a process which produces fuel but can also be used to make weapons.
Experts say that as long as the plant, which has taken more than 35 years to build, is Russian-operated and controlled, there is little immediate threat of its fuel being diverted to make bombs.
Although Iranian officials were last night promoting the plant's opening as a victory against the West, Professor Ali Ansari, of St Andrews University, said Tehran was likely to exaggerate the importance of the start-up.
'It will obviously have a very theatrical opening but the delays have meant the power plant is a very old model and the contribution to the national grid is very small,' he said.
He claimed the plant is not seen as being a significant proliferation risk because the uranium fuel it will use is well below the enrichment level needed for a nuclear weapon.
Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched by more than 90 per cent, compared to Bushehr's 3.5 per cent.
However, Iran has also revealed intentions to begin a pilot programme to enrich uranium to 20 per cent, which it says is needed for a medical research reactor.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: 'The loading of Russian fuel into the Bushehr nuclear power reactor demonstrates Iran can have the benefits of nuclear power. 'The problem is Iran's continued refusal to satisfy the international community that its work on uranium enrichment and heavy water projects are exclusively peaceful.
'We continue to urge Iran to take advantage of the open door to hold talks on all aspects of its nuclear programme.
'International anxiety about Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities can only be ended by Iran complying with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and satisfying the international community these activities are peaceful.'