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Iran Says It Will Launch First Atom Power Plant In Summer

A general view of the Bushehr nuclear plant
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran plans to start up its first atomic power plant this summer, its foreign minister was quoted as saying.

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki, referring to the summer in the northern hemisphere, made the comment a week after Iran said it carried out successful tests at the Russian-built Bushehr plant, taking it a step closer to its inauguration.

"The Bushehr nuclear power plant will be inaugurated in the summer," Mottaki told parliament in comments carried by state broadcaster IRIB and other Iranian media.

"This government sees it as its duty to finalize this project and, God willing, with its inauguration by summer we will be witnessing a political victory despite all the pressures imposed [on Iran]," he said.

Iran has announced dates for starting the power plant in the past that have been missed.

The West accuses Iran of covertly seeking to build nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies. It says its nuclear activities are aimed at generating electricity to meet soaring demand in the world's fourth-largest oil producer.

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on February 25 said the Islamic republic plans a nearly tenfold expansion of its uranium enrichment capacity in the next five years, denying a UN report which said its nuclear activities had slowed.

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants and provide material for nuclear bombs if enriched much more.

The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency showed Iran had added few centrifuges to production since August, in what UN officials said was a considerable slowdown in the expansion of the program.

But the report also showed a notable buildup in Iran's stock of enriched uranium, in theory giving it enough to convert into fuel for one atom bomb if it so chose. But this would require a raft of technical steps taking two or more years, experts say.