TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Enriched uranium fuel is ready to be shipped from Russia to Iran’s first nuclear power plant, state television on Sunday quoted Iran’s foreign minister as saying.
The announcement comes after talks in Moscow between minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko to address delays in completing the $1 billion joint Iranian-Russian Bushehr power plant.
“Nuclear fuel for this power plant, inspected and sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, is ready,” the broadcast quoted Mottaki as saying late on Saturday. “We do see the trend of cooperation between Iran and Russia moving ahead for the Bushehr power plant.”
The project, Iran’s first nuclear power plant, has been beset by repeated delays due to payment problems on the Iranian side, according to the Russians. Tehran, however, maintains it is because Moscow has been caving into Western pressure to halt the project.
The U.S. maintains that Iran’s nuclear power program is a cover for developing weapons and has called for further sanctions, while Tehran denies the charges and insists it just wants to master the technology to meet future power needs under the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
While Russia has continued to oppose a U.S. push for tougher sanctions against Tehran, Russian officials have shown growing irritation with Iran’s refusal to freeze its own uranium enrichment effort. Moscow appears to be using its control over the Bushehr project to press Iran for concessions on its nuclear program.
A European diplomat last month said that Moscow had warned Tehran it would not deliver fuel to the plant unless Tehran lifts the veil of secrecy on suspicious past atomic activities. The IAEA has since reported increased cooperation from the Iranians over its program.
Iran currently has the ability to enrich small amounts of uranium for nuclear fuel but still nowhere near enough to power a nuclear plant, much less create a weapon, but Tehran has made it clear it is developing its enrichment capacity.
Russian officials say the plant cannot open until six months after the current fuel is delivered.
Enriched to a low degree, uranium is used as a reactor fuel; higher enrichment creates material for a nuclear warhead.
One solution that has been suggested to the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program is for it to abandon its efforts to enrich uranium and just buy the necessary fuel from Russia.
In a separate report, state television said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had offered his country’s nuclear knowledge to Saudi Arabia.