Iran to unload fuel from Bushehr nuclear plant



TEHRAN // In a big setback to Iran's nuclear programme, technicians will have to unload fuel from the country's first atomic power plant because of an unspecified safety concern, a senior government official said.

The vague explanation raised questions about whether the mysterious computer worm known as Stuxnet might have caused more damage at the Bushehr plant than previously acknowledged. Other explanations are possible for unloading the fuel rods from the reactor core of the newly completed plant, including routine technical difficulties.

While the exact reason behind the fuel's removal is unclear, the admission is seen as a major embarrassment for Tehran because it has touted Bushehr,Iran's first atomic power plant, as its showcase nuclear facility and sees it as a source of national pride. When the Islamic republic began loading the fuel just four months ago, Iranian officials celebrated the achievement.

Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear monitoring agency in Vienna said that Russia, which provided the fuel and helped construct the Bushehr plant, had demanded that the fuel be taken out.

"Upon a demand from Russia, which is responsible for completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant, fuel assemblies from the core of the reactor will be unloaded for a period of time to carry out tests and take technical measurements," the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh as saying. "After the tests are conducted, [the fuel] will be placed in the core of the reactor once again."

"Iran always gives priority to the safety of the plant based on highest global standards," Mr Soltanieh added.

The spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran said the fuel unloading was nothing unusual.

"It's a kind of technical inspection and to obtain confidence about the safety of the reactor," Hamid Khadem Qaemi told the official IRNA news agency. He accused foreign media of blowing the issue out of proportion.

The Bushehr plant is not among the aspects of Iran's nuclear programme that are of top concern to the international community and is not directly subject to sanctions. It has international approval and is supervised by the UN's nuclear monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In a report released on Friday about Iran's nuclear programme, the IAEA said that Tehran informed the agency on Wednesday that it would have to unload the fuel rods. The agency said it and Tehran have agreed on the "necessary safeguards measures".

A senior international official familiar with Iran's nuclear programme said the IAEA had no further details. He said unloading and reloading fuel assemblies is not unusual before any reactor startup. The official asked for anonymity because his information was confidential.

Mr Soltanieh and other officials have not specified why the fuel had to be unloaded, but Iranian officials denied any link to the Stuxnet computer virus.

"Stuxnet has had no effect on the control systems at the Bushehr nuclear power plant," Nasser Rastkhah, a senior official in charge of nuclear security, told the official IRNA news agency.

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The Sackler family is a transatlantic dynasty that owns Purdue Pharma, which manufactures and markets OxyContin, one of the drugs at the centre of America's opioids crisis. The family is well known for their generous philanthropy towards the world's top cultural institutions, including Guggenheim Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate in Britain, Yale University and the Serpentine Gallery, to name a few. Two branches of the family control Purdue Pharma.

Isaac Sackler and Sophie Greenberg were Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York before the First World War. They had three sons. The first, Arthur, died before OxyContin was invented. The second, Mortimer, who died aged 93 in 2010, was a former chief executive of Purdue Pharma. The third, Raymond, died aged 97 in 2017 and was also a former chief executive of Purdue Pharma. 

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School counsellors on mental well-being

Schools counsellors in Abu Dhabi have put a number of provisions in place to help support pupils returning to the classroom next week.

Many children will resume in-person lessons for the first time in 10 months and parents previously raised concerns about the long-term effects of distance learning.

Schools leaders and counsellors said extra support will be offered to anyone that needs it. Additionally, heads of years will be on hand to offer advice or coping mechanisms to ease any concerns.

“Anxiety this time round has really spiralled, more so than from the first lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Priya Mitchell, counsellor at The British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.

“Some have got used to being at home don’t want to go back, while others are desperate to get back.

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