Iran needs two weeks to fully load fuel in nuclear plant

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Iran will need two more weeks to complete the process of loading fuel into its Russian-built first nuclear power plant, atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said.

The process of loading 163 fuel rods, also supplied by Russia, into the nuclear power plant located in the southern port city of Bushehr began on August 21 and was to be completed by September 5.

Thereafter the rods were to be transferred to the reactor.

But state news agency IRNA reported late on Monday that Salehi, in an interview with Al-Alam television, said it will take another two weeks to shift the rods into the plant.

"From now on, it will take 10 to 15 days for the 163 fuel rods to be moved into the main building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant and then we have to transfer the fuel rods into the reactor," Salehi said.

Last week, he had said the transfer of fuel rods into the reactor would start at the end of the Iranian month of "Shahrivar (September 22), and at the end of (the month of) Mehr (October 22), we will close the lid of the reactor."

On Monday, Salehi blamed Bushehr's "severe hot weather" for the delay in moving the rods into the plant and said that this work was being done during the night.

Iranian officials had earlier said the Bushehr plant's commissioning is expected in October or November when the electricity it generates is connected to the national grid.

Russian officials said the start of the process of loading fuel into the plant marked the physical launch of the facility, which had been under construction ever since the 1970s under the rule of the late shah.

Despite being OPEC's second-largest crude oil exporter and having the world's second-largest gas reserves, Iran insists it needs nuclear power for a rapidly growing population and for when its fossil fuels eventually run out.

Salehi also appeared to address safety concerns raised by Kuwait after the fuel loading began in the plant. Kuwait is the nearest country to the power plant as it is also located in the northern Gulf.

"These concerns and worries are untrue. If any incident happens, it can be contained in the main building" of the plant, Salehi said.

Salehi also said that the Islamic republic has received a "positive" initial response from Russia to its proposal of making nuclear fuel jointly in both countries.

"So far the Russian response has been positive to the Iranian proposal," Salehi said of the plan which he revealed on August 26.

"But any comprehensive and complete response depends on future negotiations and further study. We hope that the positive signals from the Russians will lead to the signing of an agreement."

Iran is under four sets of UN Security Council sanctions for 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.

Russia, despite being Iran's long-time nuclear ally, also voted for the latest round of UN sanctions against Tehran, a move which triggered an angry response against Moscow from top Iranian officials.

Salehi said Iran was testing second and third generations of centrifuges, the device which rotates at supersonic speed to enrich uranium.

"The testing phase could take one to three years ... The testing is on an experimental basis and not on an industrial production scale," Iran's atomic chief said.

Iran currently enriches uranium at its facility in the central city of Natanz in defiance of the UN and world powers. As of May 24, it had installed 8,528 centrifuges at Natanz, according to the latest UN atomic watchdog report.

© 2010 AFP

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