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Iran plans test run of nuclear plant

A Persian Gulf plant will be tested Wednesday, but without enriched uranium, state media say. The news is a worry for the West but a source of pride for Iran.

February 23, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

TEHRAN — Iran announced Sunday that it would turn on its Russian-built 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr for a test run Wednesday, state media reported.

But Russia, which has provided the plant's crucial nuclear fuel rods while withholding key expertise to get it running, has not confirmed the test run. Iranian officials, who said the plant would be run Wednesday without enriched uranium that would allow it to produce electricity, have in the past made claims about Bushehr that were not fulfilled.

Coming on the heels of Iran's satellite launch this month and reports of its accumulation of a crucial supply of enriched uranium, signs of progress at Bushehr are an enormous source of pride for Iranians and a major worry for the West.

Tehran cut a $1-billion deal with Moscow in 1998 to finish the long-dormant plant. It was supposed to be commissioned in 2006, but officials now say the plant is likely to produce electricity sometime this year.

Russia has long delayed Bushehr's completion, citing financial disputes with the Iranians and technical challenges. Many analysts suspect that the lack of action was a ploy to wrench maximum cash from the Iranians while gaining concessions from the West.

Plans call for the use of "virtual" fuel injections while testing the plant using computer models, state radio reported.

Weapons-grade plutonium -- which potentially could be used at another Iranian nuclear facility -- can theoretically be extracted from spent fuel from a nuclear plant. Russia, however, has pledged to keep used material under close watch.

U.S. and European policymakers are concerned that progress on Bushehr will convince Iran that it won't face international isolation if it bucks the West on demands that it halt its uranium enrichment program.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is meant solely to provide power for civilian purposes, but leading Western nations believe Tehran is seeking to amass the components for nuclear weaponry.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Sergei V. Kiriyenko, head of Russia's state-owned Rosatom nuclear technology corporation, would attend the testing.

Kiriyenko said recently that he would visit Bushehr, but he did not mention a trial run.

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daragahi@latimes.com

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