TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran, embroiled in a row with the West over its nuclear ambitions, will issue tenders in the next few days for two new atomic power plants, a senior official said on Sunday.
Ahmad Fayazbakhsh, an official at Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said the power plants would each have capacity for 1,000 to 1,600 MW and would be built at Bushehr, the southwest port city where Russians are building Iran’s first atomic plant.
The West fears Iran’s civilian nuclear plans are a smokescreen for a military program, a charge Tehran denies.
“Two international tenders in the coming days will be issued by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization ... and they (the two plants) will be built at Bushehr,” Fayazbakhsh, in charge of the nuclear power reactors at the Atomic Energy Organisation, said.
“Because we have the capability to produce nuclear fuel inside the country, in the long term, part of the fuel for the reactors will be provided by Iran and the rest will be imported,” he told a news conference.
Western capitals are mainly concerned about Iran’s uranium enrichment work to make nuclear fuel because the work involves a process that can also be used to make material for atomic bombs.
Russia is due to supply fuel for the plant it is building, but the first shipment that was due in March has been delayed ostensibly because of a row over payment delays, Iran denies missing payments. The plant has taken years to complete.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on Monday at Iran’s uranium enrichment facility that the country had begun making nuclear fuel on an industrial scale. Its refusal to stop this work has prompted two rounds of U.N. sanctions since December.
The U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Iran’s plans were still in the early stages and said it was only running several hundred centrifuges not the thousands normally associated with industrial enrichment.
The more centrifuges Iran operates the quicker it could enrich enough fuel to the high levels needed for a bomb, if that was its aim, but Western experts say Iran is still several years away from building a warhead.
Iran had said it would announce tenders for two new nuclear plants last year but the final tender announcement was not made. Iran has said it wants to build a network nuclear power plants with a capacity for 20,000 MW by 2020.
Asked if Europeans had shown any interest in Iran’s tender plans, Fayazbakhsh said: “In private meetings, they showed serious interest to participate.” But he did not name any firms.
“Any company can participate,” he said.
Documents showed to reporters said firms wishing to participate should register within 15 days from April 25 in Tehran or at the organization’s representative office in Vienna. Bids would be opened on August 8, the documents said.
Iran said it wanted 36 percent of the work to be carried out by local contractors on what it said would be light-water reactors and also wanted bidders to submit financing offers.
It said it expected prices in the range of $1.4 billion to $1.7 billion for each 1,000 MW plant. Fayazbakhsh said he expected each plant to take nine to 11 years to complete.
“By putting these two reactors out to tender, technology will be transferred to Iran gradually and it can help improving Iran’s technical knowledge in the next 20 years,” he said.