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Nuclear fuel will soon be supplied to Bushehr

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - The recent report by Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei is similar to the previous one but for a sensational detail.

It says that the IAEA is getting ready to verify and seal the nuclear fuel which will be supplied to the Bushehr nuclear power plant on November 26, 2007. This procedure will precede the delivery of fuel from Russia to Iran.

This suggests that the nuclear plant will be commissioned earlier than planned - at the end of next year. This is why the delivery of fuel is being rushed. Otherwise, why conduct the verification procedure and store sealed nuclear fuel? Its quality will deteriorate because of radioactivity. Moreover, the Tvel Corporation, a Russian manufacturer of fuel, is already sustaining losses because it had to suspend the first full load of fuel for the plant.

For these reasons, it seems logical that the plant will be commissioned earlier - say the operational commissioning will take place in the fall, and the physical one closer to summer. September 2008 was already mentioned as the date of the plant's physical commissioning.

This scenario is quite probable but...

Nuclear fuel is loaded into reactors six months before the physical commissioning. If the plant is commissioned in September, fuel should be loaded in March. It will be supplied in consignments over a period of a month and a half to two months.

March has a special significance for Iran. Every March, starting in 2005, different experts and American journalist Seymour Hersh have predicted the Pentagon's military attacks against Iranian nuclear and other military facilities. Their likelihood is fifty-fifty, and March-April is the best time because of the weather. Considering the U.S. presidential elections scheduled for the end of the year, March-April 2008 are becoming a critical deadline.

Needless to say, Moscow would find it more convenient to supply fuel after March. If Iran gets nuclear fuel and is subjected to a military attack, it is likely to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This is the worst-case scenario for everyone, Russia in particular. But more and more commentators believe that Iran will use the fuel as a nuclear shield against potential U.S. or Israeli strikes.

Anton Khlopkov, Executive Director of the Center for Russia's Political Studies, said that the verification and sealing of nuclear fuel do not define the deadline for its supply. The latter will depend on Iran's relations with the IAEA. He is convinced that Moscow has coordinated this step with the IAEA because it wanted to make its plans transparent for the Agency, Iran and the opponents of its nuclear program.

The Bushehr project has long ceased to be private business, largely because of Iran's conduct. It took Moscow a long time to persuade Tehran to sign a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on the return of the used nuclear fuel in line with the established international practice. The contract for the project was signed in January 1995, whereas the said agreement was concluded only in November 2003, after Moscow declared that it saw no obstacles to cooperation with Iran in nuclear energy.

This question is important for both sides. Considering the impulsive nature of the Iranian president, there is no guarantee that Tehran will not call the said agreement, which has not been ratified by the Iranian Majlis, just a piece of paper, as was the case with the two recent UN Security Council resolutions on Iran.

Be that as it may, on November 26, the nuclear fuel, which has been stored at the Novosibirsk plant of chemical concentrates since the late 1990s, will finally receive the status of Bushehr fuel and be monitored by the IAEA.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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