Iranian politician blames Bushehr nuclear plant delay on Russians

The country's first nuclear power plant will not start operating this month as planned.

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TEHRAN // Iran's first nuclear power plant will not start operating this month as planned.

Iranian lawmaker Asgar Jalalian has blamed the delay on Russia, local media reported yesterday.

The disclosure by Mr Jalalian, a member of a special parliamentary committee on the nuclear plant, reflects the continued difficulties the country has faced in moving forward with its controversial nuclear programme.

The 1,000 megawatt plant, being built in the southern port city of Bushehr, has experienced repeated delays.

These come on top of the unyielding pressure Tehran faces from the US and its allies, who fear the programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its programme is for peaceful uses such as power generation.

The plant is being built by Russia's Rosatom and was to be finished by 1999, four years after construction of the US$1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) facility began.

Mr Jalalian, in comments printed in the reformist daily Aftab, blamed his country's Russian partner for the latest delays.

He said the committee on which he serves has determined that the late August start-up deadline will be missed and that they had handed over a report dealing with the issue to the parliament.

"We believe the Russians are not being honest ... about the plant," Mr Jalalian said.

He urged Iranian officials to clarify the terms of the deal through "transparent and firm talks, without any 'buts' or 'ifs'."

Mr Jalalian said Iran had already paid at least twice more than the planned construction costs on the project, and additional funds are being demanded.

The contracts with the Russians have no "clear financial ceiling, timetable and end date", he added.

He also claimed the Russian partner had reneged on a promise to transfer technology to Iran.

It is unclear when the full parliament will review the committee's report on the delay or what steps they might take.

But the report is the first issued at such a high level to be circulated among Iranian officials.

The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran's US-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor.

The firm withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought hard-line clerics to power.

But in 1992, Iran signed a $1billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995.

Since then, the project has been plagued by problems linked to construction and supply glitches.

Iranian officials have acknowledged that a malicious computer worm infected laptops belonging to Bushehr employees last year but denied that the Stuxnet worm had affected the facility.

Tehran later blamed the US and Israel of being behind the malicious software.

The country claimed it was part of a covert plan by Iran's enemies to sabotage its nuclear programme.

Western nations have imposed sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment programme.

Russia had already delivered 90 tonnes (82 metric tonnes) of fuel for the reactor in eight shipments in 2007 and 2008. That is enough for one year of operations in Bushehr's light-water reactor.

But in February, Russia ordered that fuel be removed because of concerns that metal particles might be contaminating fuel assemblies. Reloading began in April.

The delays at Bushehr have hurt relations with Moscow and have prompted Iranian officials to describe Russia as an "unreliable partner".