Exclusive: Russia to start Iran nuclear plant in 2010

Mon Nov 30, 2009 1:12pm EST
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By Vladimir Soldatkin

BUSHEHR, Iran (Reuters) - Russia plans to start up Iran's first nuclear power station in March 2010 to coincide with the Iranian New Year, two sources closely involved with the project told Reuters.

Russia agreed in 1995 to build the 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Bushehr on the Gulf coast in south-western Iran, but delays have haunted the $1 billion project and diplomats say Moscow has used it as a lever in relations with Tehran.

The sources, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, both said that Russia had ordered that the plant be ready for operation by the holiday which falls in the second half of March.

"We have been given the task of launching the plant by Iranian New Year," said one of the sources. "There is still a lot of work to do." The second source added that testing at the plant was going well.

During a visit to the nuclear plant on Monday, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said it would be finished soon but refused to give a time.

"The Bushehr plant will be finished in the nearest future," said Shmatko, who before he was made energy minister used to head the Russian state company that is helping to build Bushehr.

The atomic power station was once a source of disagreement between Russia and the West, which suspected the Islamic Republic would try to use it to build nuclear weapons.

But in recent years, the United States has dropped its opposition and says the plant removes any need for Iran to have its own enrichment program.   Continued...

<p>A Russian technician works in the control room at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr, south of Tehran, February 25, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz</p>