February 22, 2009 / 1:13 PM / in 9 years

Iran conducts tests at Bushehr plant this week

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran plans to carry out computer tests on its Bushehr nuclear power plant this week in preparation for its launch, official media said on Sunday.

The head of Russia’s state nuclear company, Sergei Kiriyenko, will attend Wednesday’s “pre-commissioning” of Iran’s first such power plant, located on the Gulf coast in south-western Iran, state radio said.

The West, which suspects Tehran of seeking to produce its own nuclear bomb, has been critical of Russia’s involvement in building Bushehr. Russia says it is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program.

Kiriyenko said this month Russia aimed to start up a nuclear reactor at Bushehr by the end of the year.

Iranian media said the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, would also attend the event at Bushehr.

Mohammad Saeedi, Aghazadeh’s deputy, described the tests as a “preliminary phase” for starting the plant and told Reuters this would be followed by its commissioning and launch. He did not give a timetable.

State radio said all Bushehr’s activities would be tested with computer software.

“Pre-commissioning is an important step before the actual commissioning of the power plant,” the radio quoted Mohsen Delaviz, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, as saying.

The launch of the Bushehr plant’s nuclear reactor has been delayed frequently. Russia last year completed delivery of nuclear fuel to the station under a contract estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said the plant “is in the final stages of its construction” and the Russian side had boosted the number of staff to “increase the speed of work.”

Analysts say Iran could become a central issue in relations between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and new U.S. President Barack Obama, who has said that the United States was prepared to talk to Tehran.

They say Russia has used Bushehr as a lever in relations with Tehran, which is suspected by the United States and some European countries of seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest crude producer, rejects such allegations and says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.

Russia started deliveries of nuclear fuel for the plant in late 2007, a step both Washington and Moscow said removed any need for Iran to have its own uranium enrichment program.

Moscow says Iran will return all spent fuel rods to Russia.

Reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robert Woodward

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