Meeting Iran's Energy Demands: Kambiz Sheikh-Hassani Puts the Case for His Country's Nuclear Programme

Article excerpt

Iran's activities in nuclear research and development began in the late 1960s under the auspices of the United States within the framework of bilateral agreements between the two countries. Iran's quest for nuclear energy picked up momentum following a keynote study, in 1974, sanctioned by the Iranian government and carried out by the prestigious American Stanford Research Institute, which predicted Iran's need for nuclear energy and recommended the building of nuclear plants capable of generating 20,000 megawatts of electricity up to 1994.

According to declassified confidential US government documents, posted on the Digital National Security Archive, in the mid-1970s the United States encouraged Iran to expand her non-off energy base, and suggested to the Shah that Iran needed not one but several nuclear reactors to acquire the electrical capacity that the Stanford Research Institute had proposed. The US administration also expressed interest in American companies participating in Iran's nuclear energy projects.

According to the same declassified document mentioned above, in an address to the symposium 'The US and Iran, An Increasing Partnership', held in October 1977, Sydney Sober, a representative of the US State Department, declared that the Shah's government was going to purchase eight nuclear reactors from the United States for generating electricity. On 10 July 1978, only seven months before the successful Islamic Revolution in Iran, the final draft of the US-Iran Nuclear Energy Agreement was signed. The agreement was supposed to facilitate co-operation in the field of nuclear energy and to govern the export and transfer of equipment and material to Iran's nuclear energy programme.

The Tehran Nuclear Research Centre (TNRC) was the first significant nuclear facility to be supplied to Iran by the United States in 1967--it was a safeguarded 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor. Eater, the Iranian government awarded a contract to the German company Kraftwerk Union (a subsidiary of Siemens) to construct two Siemens 1200-megawatt nuclear reactors at Bushehr. The construction work began in 1974. That same year Iran also signed a contract with the French company Framatome to build two 950-megawatt pressurised reactors in Darkhovin-Ahvaz. Framatome surveyed the area and began site preparation.

In February 1979, when the Islamic Revolution toppled the Shah's government, the Bushehr-1 (that is, reactor 1) was 90 per cent complete and 60 per cent of its equipment had been installed, while Bushehr-2 was 50 per cent complete. However, the nuclear power plant construction programme was suspended and construction activities halted later that year.

The Islamic Republic of Iran resumed the nuclear power programme from the late-1980s. An initial approach to Kraftwerk Union to complete the Bushehr project failed because of pressure by the United States. Iran then asked Germany to allow Kraftwerk to ship the reactor components and technical documentation that it had paid for, citing a 1982 International Commerce Commission (ICC) haling under which Siemens was obligated to deliver all plant materials and components stored outside Iran, but the German government refused to comply. In response, Iran flied a lawsuit in August 1996 with the ICC, asking for $5.4 billion in compensation for Germany's failure to comply with the 1982 ruling. The issue is still unsettled.

Rebuffed efforts

In the late 1980s, a consortium of companies from Argentina, Germany and Spain submitted a proposal to Iran to complete the Bushehr-1 reactor, but huge third country pressure stopped the deal. The same pressure also stopped Spain's National Institute of Industry and Nuclear Equipment from completing the Bushehr project in 1990. Iran also tried, unsuccessfully, to procure components for the Bushehr reactors, but her attempts were blunted by the same country. For example, in 1993, Iran tried to acquire eight steam condensers, built by the Italian firm Ansaldo under the Kraftwerk Union contract, but they were seized by the government. …