Russia proceeds with Iranian nuclear power plant

Publish date: March 14, 1998

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russia will press ahead with its project to build a nuclear power plant in Iran despite opposition by the United States, news agencies quoted Lev Ryabev, deputy minister for atomic energy in Russia, as saying. Ryabev took part in the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission meeting in Washington last week.

Russian Deputy Prime Minster Vladimir Bulgak, who visited Iran earlier in March, dismissed U.S. and Israeli complaints about Russia’s role in the construction of a nuclear plant at Iran’s Bushehr port.

"Iran is part of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and has signed the nuclear weapons non-proliferation pact. All Iranian sites are open to international inspectors," Interfax news agency quoted Bulgak as saying.

The United States and Israel fear Russian assistance could help Iran obtain nuclear weapons. The two countries accuse Tehran of sponsoring terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Bulgak said the main reason for pressure on Russia was tough competition on the nuclear power energy market in the Middle East, where German, French and U.S. companies are trying to step in.

While in Iran, Bulgak agreed in principle with the Iranians to build a second and third reactor at Bushehr. The deal, according to Russian officials, would go ahead only after Iran has paid for the first reactor.

Russian companies have been contracted to build a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant with VVER-type reactors at Bushehr at a cost of 850 million USD. The work on the first reactor began more than a year ago. However, different problems slowed the implementation of the project.

Bulgak said the preliminary agreement assumed Russian experts would construct the plant’s first reactor over a period of 30 months.

Ukraine abandons Bushehr project

In the meantime, Ukraine gave up its part in the project under heavy U.S. pressure. Ukraine’s state-owned AOA Turboatom plant was under contract to design and build turbines for Bushehr. Russian officials said the order to produce turbines for the nuclear power plant in Iran could be placed with a turbine factory in St. Petersburg. Georgiy Kaurov, press- spokesman for Minatom, quoted the newly appointed minister Yevgeny Adamov as telling Iran that Ukraine’s withdrawal from the project “will have no significant influence on the carrying out of the project to build the first reactor of the Bushehr plant.”

Russia says the light-water VVER-type reactors planned for Bushehr cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Danger for non-proliferation policy

Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the Russian President and currently chairman of the Centre for Russian Environmental policy, strongly believes that Iran will be able to produce it’s own nuclear bombs a few years after the nuclear plant is put in operation.

According to Yablokov, the Iranian leadership has stated several times its will to possess nuclear weapons. In 1995, Minatom attempted to deliver to Iran the latest uranium enrichment technologies. Luckily this deal was later stopped by the Russian President.

The spent nuclear fuel generated by any type of nuclear reactor contains fission materials (uranium and plutonium) which can be used for the creation of nuclear explosive devices at low cost, says Alexey Yablokov.

Latest estimates conclude that only 3 kg of plutonium and 8 kg of uranium-235 are enough to build a nuclear bomb. A nuclear power plant reactor produces much higher volumes of these materials every year.

“The separation line between civilian and military nuclear programs is quite indistinct; that is why passing over nuclear technology to such unstable countries as Iran is a suicidal step,“ says Yablokov.