US concern over `nuclear threat': as tension rises over the potential nuclear capabilities of Iraq and North Korea, US worries over nuclear developments in Iran have been less publicised.

Author:Ford, Neil

The Russian government is helping to construct the Bushehr nuclear power plant in the south west of Iran but Washington fears that the spread of civilian nuclear technology to one of President Bush's `axis of evil' countries could encourage military uses for spent nuclear fuel from the plant.

At a Tehran meeting at the end of 2002, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, and Russia's atomic energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, finally put pen to paper on a deal to finish construction of the $780m Bushehr plant. Work on the installation began in 1974 with the support of West Germany but was suspended following the 1979 revolution.

Russia signed the contract to complete the work in 1995 but the scheme did not proceed as planned. It was originally expected that the plant would be finished by 2000 but the construction of two new 440 MW units and the completion of the two original 1300 MW pressurised light water units remains unfinished. Under the new deal, Bushehr must be brought on stream by March 2004.

The US government has consistently objected to Iran's nuclear power plant programme and claims the country wants to produce weapons grade plutonium from Bushehr's spent fuel. It also published satellite photographs of two other sites in Iran--at Arak and Natanz--where Russia is considering helping Iran build nuclear plants. It appears that a French-based Iranian opposition organisation, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, originally drew attention to the two sites, prompting the US survey. In an attempt to dissuade Russia from pursuing its nuclear cooperation plans with the Islamic Republic, US energy secretary Spencer Abraham met Rumyantsev last May when he handed over `evidence' of Iran's plans to develop nuclear weapons to the Russian government. However, the Russian position remains unchanged.

Abraham commented: "Iran is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction, long range missiles, and we have long been concerned that Iran's only interest in nuclear civil power--given its vast domestic energy resources--is to support its nuclear weapons programme."

Gulam Reza Shafeii, the Iranian ambassador to Moscow, argued: "The US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia--all these countries get energy from nuclear power stations. And under the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which we signed, no one can take this legal right away from us. The Americans claim that the spent nuclear...

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