Russia delivers nuclear fuel to Iranian reactor

17 December 2007

On 16 December, Russia delivered the first shipment of fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which it is helping to construct in Iran.


AtomStroyExport (ASE), the Russian company contracted to complete the plant, said that the containers of fuel had been inspected and sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before delivery. The fuel will now be stored at an on-site fuel storage facility, which has already been placed under the IAEA safeguards regime and international security and monitoring system.


Bushehr 1 will be a unique VVER-1000 pressurised water reactor (PWR), built by ASE from pre-existing site works made by Siemens. Bushehr 1 was originally intended to be a Kraftwerk Union PWR to supply about 1200 MWe to the grid from 1981. Work was 85% complete when the project was halted after Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979. In 2002, ASE signed a deal to complete the unit to its own design.


The delivery of fuel for the plant followed months of project delays which Russia attributed to payment arrears, but which Iran blamed on pressure from Western countries. Iran has been accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. Iran's determination to develop a domestic uranium enrichment facility has led to the imposition of sanctions by the UN Security Council and serious international tension.


On 13 December, ASE reported that Moscow and Tehran had reached agreement on a schedule for completing construction of Bushehr. Russian news agencies cited ASE director Sergey Shmatko as saying details of the timetable could be released later this month. Details of the completion plan were not disclosed.


Russia hopes that the start of fuel deliveries to Iran may prompt the country to end its ongoing uranium enrichment program. Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, "We believe that entirely new conditions have been created, allowing Iran to take steps to restore trust in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program." It added that Iran had provided additional written guarantees that the fuel, containing uranium enriched to 3.6% U-235, would only be used for generating electricity at Bushehr. "This includes the suspension of uranium enrichment activities, as Iran will not need its own enrichment facility in the mid-term," the ministry said.


Under a Russian-Iranian agreement on Bushehr, nuclear fuel deliveries to the plant would start about six months prior to commissioning of the plant. Russia will supply a total of 163 basic and 17 reserve fuel assemblies to Iran for the initial fuel load for the Bushehr 1 reactor. ASE said that the full delivery will take up to two months. Under the agreement, used fuel from Bushehr would be returned to Russia for reprocessing and storage.


US President Bush commented on the delivery: "If the Russians are willing to do that - which I support - then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich. If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich." Similar remarks were made by US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, who said, "This fuel delivery provides Iran with one more reason to suspend their nuclear program. If the Russians are proving the Iranians fuel, the Iranians have no reason to enrich uranium themselves."


However, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, reportedly stated on national television that construction of a 360 MWe indigenous nuclear power plant at Darkhovin had already commenced. He said, "The fuel for this plant needs to be produced by Natanz enrichment plant." Aghazadeh added that Iran needs to increase the number of centrifuges at Natanz from 3000 to 50,000 as the plant could currently only produce sufficient fuel for a 100 MWe plant.


Further information


WNA's Nuclear Energy in Iran information paper

 Putin: Bushehr problems technical not political
WNN: Iran and Russia dispute Bushehr startup
WNN: Bushehr approaches commissioning
WNN:  INSIGHT BRIEFING: Iran rebuked by sanctions