Iran said on Tuesday that it had begun loading the first of 163 fuel rods into the core of its first nuclear reactor, set to go into operation early next year, and vowed to pursue nuclear activities “in other areas.”
Iran’s nuclear programme has spread deep concerns in the West because governments, including the United States, believe Tehran has ambitions to build a nuclear weapon and do not accept its denials.
The US once opposed the Russian-built Bushehr plant in the south of the country but dropped its objections after Russia provided assurances over the fuel supply and the disposal of spent fuel roads that can be used to makes weapons-grade plutonium. Russia has agreed to take back spent fuel.
The plant is supposed to be supervised by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the United Nations nuclear watchdog based in Vienna. It was not clear if IAEA inspectors were present when the fuel-loading began.
Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday: “Political pressure and sanctions have not prevented Iran from proceeding with its peaceful nuclear activities according to schedule.”
“The Bushehr power plant is a major project which will help us to take one step toward future alternative energy supplies,” he said, according to the semiofficial IRNA news agency. “We will also pursue our peaceful nuclear activities in other areas.” He did not give details.
The loading of fuel at the reactor was initially supposed to begin soon after fuel was transported there in August, but was delayed by a leak.
Speaking to workers at the plant, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the Bushehr facility “is the most exceptional power plant in the world and it is right now at the critical stage of transferring fuel into the core of the reactor which is the last stage of the process.” Salehi said that the plant would begin to feed the national power grid within three months.
IAEA inspectors would oversee the final processes of fuel-loading and then seal the core of the reactor to prevent tampering. The reactor is also supposed to be kept under surveillance by closed circuit television cameras that would detect any movement of fuel.