Conflict & Justice

Iran reports problems with nuclear reactor


The reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, 750 miles south of Tehran.


Majid Asgaripour

Iran admitting Saturday to technical problems with its nuclear power plant in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, saying it may have to exchange the Russian-designed nuclear facility's entire core, diplomats reportedly said Saturday in Vienna.

The diplomats were commenting a day after Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that it had encountered problems at the plant, which was scheduled to start producing electricity this month.

Instead, it was unloading fuel assemblies from the reactor, according to a report issued Friday by Yukiya Amano, head of the global nuclear watchdog agency.

Iran notified the IAEA of the fuel removal since the Bushehr facility operates under the agency's supervision.

The Russian-built plant, already plagued by delays, was expected to be producing 1,000 megawatts of electricity and was being painted as a showcase for nuclear power to be used for civilian purposes in Iran.

The United States and other global powers question Iran's claim that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), trying to downplay the incident, said the fuel removal was temporary.

"Upon Russia's request fuel will be removed from the core of the reactor in order to conduct a number of tests and [carry out] technical work," Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the semi-official Islamic Students News Agency on Saturday. "After the tests are conducted, [the fuel] will be placed in the core of the reactor once again."

He said Russia was responsible for completing the plant in accordance with "the world's highest standards." Russia also supplied the initial 82 tons of nuclear fuel for the plant.

Iran began loading fuel into the core of the Bushehr reactor in October after it was launched in August, according to CNN.

The plant was built after more than three decades of delays: Germany started construction in 1975 but pulled out of the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution; Iran then signed a deal with Russia, in 1995, with completion scheduled in 1999.

The Iranian report to the IAEA apparently did not specify how serious the technical problems were, diplomats said the entire core must be removed and replaced, according to dpa.

The diplomats said that there were problems with all fuel rods.

Nuclear power experts noted that smaller problems with nuclear fuel rods are common when starting up a reactor, but that the replacement of the entire core was a much bigger issue.