Russia says ready for more nuclear cooperation with Iran
Moscow's energy minister Sergei Shmatko on Sunday promised further nuclear cooperation with Iran, after Russia built the Islamic republic's first atomic power plant despite US objections.
"I say with certainty that in the future, we will have more cooperation in the Bushehr power plant, and also in the development of other projects in the field of nuclear energy," Shmatko said at a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
"I think this (cooperation) is in the interest of the Iranian people," Shmatko added, without giving a timetable for future projects or saying whether they would include new power plants.
The Bushehr plant was linked to the national grid early this month, and on Monday Tehran organised a ceremony to mark the plant reaching 40 percent of its 1,000-megawatt capacity.
The plant was formally inaugurated in August 2010, but the reactor began operation in May.
Iran's atomic chief, Fereydoun Abbasi Davani, said in August that Tehran and Moscow had held negotiations for further nuclear cooperation, and that Russia had made "proposals" to build new nuclear power plants in Iran.
He did not provide details, and Russia has not confirmed the information.
On Sunday, Shmatko said "nuclear energy was having a difficult time in the world, particularly after the incident" at Fukushima in Japan.
Six months ago on Sunday an earthquake and tsunami left people 20,000 dead or missing and sparked a nuclear crisis on Japan's Pacific coast in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union.
"We should realise that this cooperation should reflect new safety measures as required in nuclear projects around the world," Shmatko added.
Both Iranian and Russian officials have repeatedly cited security considerations to justify repeated delays in the commissioning of the Bushehr plant.
The delays have even provoked criticism from Iran, with some officials openly accusing Moscow of stalling in the face of pressure from the United States, which tried in vain to halt the project.
Construction of the plant started in the 1970s with the help of German company Siemens, which quit the project after the 1979 Islamic revolution over concerns about nuclear proliferation.
In 1994, Russia agreed to complete the plant and provide fuel for it, with the supply deal committing Iran to returning the spent fuel, amid Western concerns over Tehran's controversial uranium enrichment programme.
Iran's nuclear ambitions have for years been at the heart of a struggle between the Islamic republic and the West, despite Tehran repeatedly denying that it seeks to acquire a weapons capability.
The UN Security Council has slapped four rounds of sanctions on Iran to get it to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which can both produce the fuel for a nuclear reactor and the fissile material for an atomic warhead.
Iran says it uses the process to amass fuel material for future nuclear power plants and atomic research reactors it plans to build. But other than Bushehr, it is yet to officially set in motion plans for new nuclear plants.
Iranian experts are still working to revive a proposed 360-megawatt nuclear plant at Darkhoin in the southwestern province of Khuzestan near the border with Iraq, a project initiated by France and abandoned after the 1979 revolution.
Mohammed Ahmadian, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, acknowledged on Sunday that the project was stalled because of European sanctions against Tehran.
"We cooperated extensively with foreign companies for (Darkhoin's) design, but because of restrictions imposed by European countries, the cooperation has been suspended," Ahmadian told the ISNA news agency.
But "we are currently negotiating with other countries which have expressed a readiness for this project," he added without elaborating.
© 2011 AFP