Russian-Iranian Reactor Contract Restarts Work at Bushehr Complex

By Medeiros, Evan S. | Arms Control Today, May/June 1996 | Go to article overview

Russian-Iranian Reactor Contract Restarts Work at Bushehr Complex


Medeiros, Evan S., Arms Control Today


DESPITE INTENSE U.S. diplomatic efforts to halt Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation, construction work has begun under Russia's $800 million contract to finish building one of two partially completed nuclear reactors at Iran's Bushehr complex 450 miles south of Tehran. The Clinton administration has repeatedly asked the government of Russian President Boris Yeltsin to cancel the January 1995 deal.

The United States opposes all nuclear cooperation with Iran on the grounds that it would enhance Tehran's ability to build nuclear weapons. In an annual proliferation report released in April, the Pentagon described Iran as "committed to acquiring nuclear weapons."

Iran and Russia on the other hand maintain that their nuclear cooperation is completely legal under the nuclear NonProliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran is considered to be a member in good standing under the treaty. Tehran has promised to place all its Russian-supplied technology under international safeguards and last year announced that it would return to Russia the plutonium-laden spent fuel from the reactor. (Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) has promised to provide Iran with 20 years' worth of fresh fuel for the reactor.)

Iran is one of the few countries that has gone beyond its basic NPT commitments by allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct "special inspections" to disprove reports of a secret nuclear weapon program. Iran claims the United States is violating the NPT by denying Tehran its "inalienable right" under the treaty to peaceful nuclear technology. Tehran has also argued that U.S. opposition to the reactor deal is a double standard because of Washington's promise to supply a similar type of light-water reactor to North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's pledge to dismantle its nuclear weapon program. North Korea, which was generally considered to be in violation of its NPT commitments, refused repeated IAEA requests for special inspections.

Construction Begins

According to recent foreign press reports, MINATOM earlier this year completed preliminary technical evaluations of the civilian reactor, which was believed to be 70 percent complete when construction was halted in 1979 following the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Construction of this reactor and a second Bushehr reactor, which is reportedly 40 percent complete, was begun in 1976 by the German company Siemens. Both units were damaged by bombing raids during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

According to the reports, Iranian subcontractors have begun to renovate Bushehr I's existing facilities, after which Russian technicians will begin the difficult task of retrofitting Russian WER-1000 reactor technology into the Siemens-designed reactor building.

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