Officials in Moscow deny reports that Russia is deliberately delaying the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. These allegations stem from the fact that Alexander Rumyantsev, Russia's former nuclear energy minister, repeatedly postponed his visit to Iran. However, such delays were caused by the administrative reform being conducted in Russia, which transformed the Nuclear Energy Ministry into the Nuclear Energy Agency.
Moreover, the Iranian side's decision to pause and analyze the legal and commercial aspects of Moscow's nuclear-fuel term fuelled these rumors. Russia wants all of the spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr plant to be returned to Russia for storage and processing. In his recent statements, Rumyantsev said that "the current financial differences are being eliminated, the Iranians do not have any principled objections," and are ready to sign an agreement on spent nuclear fuel."
Rumyantsev, the director of the Nuclear Energy Agency, organized a press conference soon after his appointment. Talking to reporters, Rumyantsev noted that he "sees no obstacles that can hinder Russian-Iranian cooperation, which is regulated by international law and the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran is our neighbor and traditional partner. There is no doubt that Russia will fulfil its commitments to Iran, and will complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant."
It is impossible to stop the Bushehr construction project, Alexander Yakovenko, the spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, noted. "Moscow has not examined this possibility at all," Yakovenko stressed, while talking with reporters before Rumyantsev's press conference.
Russia began construction of the Bushehr plant, a unique nuclear power plant on the Persian Gulf coast, six years ago. Siemens, a German company, completed the initial phase of the project in the 1970s. At that time, the German nuclear reactor could have been activated. However, during the Iranian-Iraqi war (1980-1988), missiles seriously damaged the walls of the reactor. Consequently, Siemens stopped working on the project and its specialists left Bushehr.
After the war, no one wanted to complete work on the damaged reactor. Russia was the only country that agreed to begin construction work. However, Russia was suffering from an economic collapse and an acute social and political crisis after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Yevgeny Adamov, the nuclear energy minister at the time, said, "in that difficult situation the nuclear power industry had to retain its specialists. Iran was not stingy, they quickly paid Russia in hard currency." The Bushehr plant contract was worth $800 million. It enabled Moscow to subsidize Russia's machine-building enterprises and research and development agencies.
The task to complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant was unprecedented and formidable. The facility had fallen into disrepair because it had been subjected to scorching heat and desert winds for over a decade. Thorny desert bushes grew all around the reactor and there were snakes everywhere. Most of the reactor equipment was rejected as defective by a joint Russian-Iranian expert survey. Other systems were rejected because they did not conform to the Russian design.
Moscow and Tehran signed a contract for the construction of a 1,000 MWe VVER-1000 water-cooled and water-moderated reactor in 1995. VVER-100 reactors are listed among the safest and best nuclear reactors, in terms of their specifications, in the world. Construction finally began three years later because of technical problems and delayed Western equipment shipments.
Since then, Russia has invested tremendous intellectual, moral and physical resources into the Bushehr project. Several thousand Russian specialists worked at the construction site in adverse weather conditions (40-50 degrees Celsius). The power plant is close to completion because of their efforts. According to Rumyantsev, the Bushehr plant will be tested next year.
Russia was criticized and subjected to political pressure from the United States for implementing the Bushehr construction project. Russia is being reproached for this project because the Bushehr nuclear power plant will allegedly enable Iran to develop its own nuclear weapons. "Accusations to the effect that we are trying to supply military nuclear technologies are groundless," Rumyantsev noted. "Our cooperation with Iran in the field of nuclear power plants construction is completely based on international law on the peaceful use of nuclear technology."
The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Charter expressly states that any country that does not have its own nuclear facilities and wants to create a civilian nuclear power industry, must sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and pledge to fulfil all commitments under IAEA auspices. Consequently, nuclear powers can and must help such countries to develop their own nuclear energy facilities.
Therefore Russian-Iranian cooperation is absolutely legal. In an attempt to remove all IAEA concerns, Iran signed an additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in December 2003. According to the provisions of the protocol, the IAEA, which is a respected international organization, can conduct on-site inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities. IAEA inspectors have exercised this right in full measure. However, so far, the IAEA has failed to provide any evidence of a covert Iranian nuclear program.