Iran set to test its first nuclear power plant

After several delays and with Russia's aid


Iran plans to test its first nuclear power plant Wednesday in preparations for its launch after several delays of its original launching date in the fall of 2008, Iran's official news website announced Sunday.

IRNA agency announced a "pilot stage operation" of the power plant will start on Wednesday during a visit by the head of Russia's state Rosatom Atomic Corporation, Sergey Kiriyenko.

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 long-awaited 1,000-megawatt power plant, built in the city of Bushehr with the help from Russia under a $1 billion contract, employs 700 Iranian engineers who were trained in Russia to operate the plant.

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.

Pre-commissioning is an important step before the actual commissioning of the power plant

Iran\\\\\\\'s state radio

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.

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."

Worrisome news

Tehran's future plans include building a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in Darkhovin, in the southwestern Khuzestan province.

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.

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

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.

However 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.