Reuters: Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are set on Thursday to finish sealing uranium fuel that Russia intends to send to Iran’s first atomic power station, a Russian nuclear official said. By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are set on Thursday to finish sealing uranium fuel that Russia intends to send to Iran’s first atomic power station, a Russian nuclear official said.
Completion of the task will be a major step Russia needs if it is to ship the uranium to Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power station. Once sealed, Russia could swiftly ship the fuel.
“The IAEA team is concluding its work at the plant today,” the spokesman said, referring to the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant where the fuel is stored.
Russia has given no date for when it will send the nuclear fuel to Bushehr, but says shipment would need to occur six months before the plant’s repeatedly delayed start-up.
Under current Russian forecasts, plant reactors could be started up in 2008, with nuclear fuel arriving at the plant six months prior.
Sealing fuel is the clearest indication yet that Moscow is ready to send the uranium to Iran, a move that would raise the stakes in the diplomatic crisis provoked by suspicions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Some Russian media have suggested next spring as a time when the fuel may be sent to Iran, though nuclear officials refuse to speculate on when the fuel could be shipped. Spring in the northern hemisphere officially starts March 15.
The United States, Israel and key European Union nations suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear bombs.
But Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, says there is no evidence Tehran is seeking atomic weapons.
Iran says an IAEA report earlier this month vindicated repeated statements that its nuclear programme was purely civilian and showed that there would be no basis for further discussion of it in the United Nations Security Council.
The IAEA report said Iran had made important strides toward transparency about its nuclear activity but had yet to resolve outstanding questions. It also said Iran had expanded uranium enrichment.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna; editing by Myra MacDonald)