Iran’s first nuclear power plant has finally begun to provide electricity to the national grid, official news media reported on Sunday, a long-delayed milestone in the nuclear ambitions of a country the West fears is covertly trying to develop atomic weapons.
The start-up will come as a relief to Tehran after many years of delays and false starts at the plant it hopes will show the world it has joined the nuclear club, despite sanctions imposed in an effort to curb its nuclear progress.
The $1 billion, 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant will be formally inaugurated Sept. 12, by which time it will be operating at 40 percent capacity, Hamid Khadem Qaemi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the state-controlled Arabic-language TV station Al Alam.
The plant is the first of what Iran says will be a network of nuclear facilities that will reduce reliance on its fossil fuels and is a showpiece of what it calls a purely peaceful atomic program.
Bushehr’s start-up comes with Russia pushing to revive talks between global powers and Iran about its separate uranium enrichment work, seen abroad as a potential proliferation threat, since highly refined uranium is used in nuclear weapons.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only to lower levels, suitable for power plant fuel or medical and agricultural uses. But it has started shifting its most secretive enrichment operations to a mountain bunker that would be safer from a possible American or Israeli military strike.
Started by Germany’s Siemens before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the project was taken over by Russian engineers in the 1990s. Delays fueled speculation that Russia was using the project as a diplomatic lever over Iran.
Experts say starting up the Bushehr plant will not bring Iran any closer to building a nuclear bomb, because Russia will supply the enriched uranium for the reactor and repatriate spent fuel that could be reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium.