* Iran's first atom energy plant plagued by delays since
* Russia said it was fully operational in August
* Iran's energy minister says "final tests" now conducted
DUBAI, Nov 8 Iran's first nuclear power plant
will become fully operational by early 2013, its energy minister
was quoted as saying, more than two months after Russia said it
was up and running normally following decades of delay.
The plant near the town of Bushehr on Iran's Gulf coast is a
symbol of what Tehran says is its peaceful nuclear ambitions.
The West suspects the Islamic Republic is seeking to develop a
nuclear weapons capability and imposed tough sanctions on it.
However, the Bushehr reactor is not considered a serious
proliferation threat by nuclear inspectors. Their main concern
is focused on sites where Iran enriches nuclear fuel, in
defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it stop.
The reason for the apparent discrepancy on the status of
Bushehr was not made clear in the comments by Energy Minister
Najid Namjou, in a report carried by the English-language Iran
Daily on Thursday, or whether it meant any new delay for the
Russian builder NIAEP - part of state nuclear corporation
Rosatom - last month said that Bushehr would be formally "handed
over for use" to Iran in March 2013, whereas earlier officials
had said that would happen by the end of this year.
It was plugged into Iran's national grid in September 2011,
apparently ending a protracted delay and suspicions that Moscow
was using the project as a diplomatic lever. In August this
year, Rosatom said it was fully operational.
Namjou was quoted in a report by Iran's semi-official Fars
News Agency, published by Iran Daily, as saying the
1,000-megawatt plant would go "into operation with maximum power
generation capacity" within the next two months.
"The final tests of the Bushehr nuclear power plant have
been conducted," he added. Russian officials were not
immediately available for comment on the report.
Last month, NIAEP director Valery Limarenko was quoted as
saying by Russia's Interfax news agency: "We have taken a series
of important technical engineering decisions which ... show that
in order to do everything in a quality way, we have changed the
(date of) the handover." He gave no details.
Iran, one of the world's biggest oil producers, says
electricity generation to serve a rapidly growing population is
the main motivation for its nuclear activity, which adversaries
say is really aimed at developing the means to make atom bombs.
Bushehr's construction was started by Germany's Siemens
before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and was taken over by Russian
engineers in the 1990s.
The United States for years urged Russia - one of six world
powers seeking a diplomatic solution to the decade-old standoff
over Iran's nuclear programme - to abandon the project, fearing
it could help Tehran develop nuclear weapons.
Those concerns were eased by an agreement under which Russia
will supply enriched uranium for Bushehr and repatriate spent
fuel that could be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium.
Refined uranium can be used to fuel power plants - Iran's
stated purpose - or provide the explosive core of a nuclear bomb
if processed further, which the West fears is the ultimate aim.