Iranians aim to build atomic reactor after agreeing new deal with Russia


Iran has moved a step closer to producing nuclear power by agreeing to return spent fuel to Russia from a $800 million reactor being built by Moscow despite US opposition, an atomic energy official said yesterday.

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Mr Alexander Rumyantsev arrived in Tehran on Sunday to finalise details of the nuclear programme fiercely opposed by Washington, which has branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" for allegedly developing weapons of mass destruction. "Iran has accepted to return the waste fuel to Russia as one of the terms for starting the shipment of fuel," an official at Iran's Atomic Energy Agency told Reuters.

Moscow's continued participation in the project to build a nuclear reactor near the southwestern port of Bushehr depended on Iranian assurances that all spent fuel would be returned to Russia - a demand advanced by US experts. "The first batch of fuel for the Bushehr nuclear plant produced by Russia is ready and packed. Russia is trying to make necessary preparations for its shipment," Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Mr Rumyantsev as saying.

Mr Rumyantsev said supplying the fuel remained contingent on signing an agreement on fuel delivery and the return of spent fuel. Iranian officials said the agreement would be signed tomorrow.

Iran insists the Bushehr reactor is for purely civilian power production, but US officials question why Iran, the second biggest oil producer in OPEC and with the second biggest gas reserves in the world, would need it.

Russia says it would be difficult for the civilian reactor to be adapted to produce nuclear weapons, a stance disputed by Washington.

US officials earlier this month also charged that two other nuclear sites being built in central Iran were of a type that could be used for manufacturing nuclear warheads.

The Bushehr reactor, due to come on stream at the end of 2003, is under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, while the other two plants are not due to be inspected by the agency until late February. - (Reuters)