Iran says 'small leak' delayed nuclear plant launch

4th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Iran's atomic chief has said a small leak in a pool beside the Bushehr reactor has delayed the start-up of the nuclear plant, the official IRNA news agency reported on Monday.

However, Ali Akbar Salehi ruled out any links between the delayed launch and a computer worm which analysts say may have been designed to target the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.

"During the washing process a small leak was seen in a pool next to the reactor and it was stopped. The leak delayed activities for a few days," Salehi told IRNA.

He did not elaborate further on the leak, but added that "the core of the reactor is working very well."

Salehi had said on Wednesday the country's first nuclear power plant would be ready to generate electricity by January -- two months later than previously announced.

He had said the process of placing fuel rods in the Russian-built Bushehr facility would be completed by the "middle of" the Iranian month of Aban, around November 7.

Iran began loading the Russian-supplied fuel rods on August 21, and Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for the atomic body, said at the time the plant would be connected to the national grid by the end of October or early November.

Salehi, in an interview with Al-Alam television on August 31, blamed the delays on Bushehr's "severe hot weather" and safety concerns, adding that the fuel loading was being done during the night.

Iranian officials have acknowledged that the computer worm Stuxnet is mutating and wreaking havoc on computerised industrial equipment in the country, where around 30,000 IP addresses were reportedly infected.

On Sunday the deputy industry minister was reported as saying its industrial computers have now been cleaned of the virus.

Officials have denied the Bushehr nuclear plant was among the addresses penetrated by the worm, but they have said that the personal computers of personnel at the facility were infected.

Salehi told IRNA on Monday the delayed fuel transfer to the facility "has nothing to do with this virus."

Iran says it needs the Bushehr plant, which had been under construction since the 1970s and was finally finished by Russia, to meet growing demand for electricity.

But the international community widely believes that Iran's atomic activities mask a covert nuclear weapons programme, a charge Tehran denies.

Iran is under four sets of United Nations sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, the process which can be used to make nuclear fuel but also the fissile core of an atom bomb in highly purified forms.

© 2010 AFP

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