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Russia Says Iran's First Nuclear Power Station To Start Up Next Week

Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station
Russia has said it will begin putting nuclear fuel into Iran's first atomic power station reactor on August 21 by launching the Bushehr plant after an almost 40-year delay.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today said the move shows that Iran does not need enrichment for its stated goal of peaceful nuclear energy production because the new Bushehr plant makes the Islamic republic's controversial enrichment program unnecessary.

He said the Bushehr plant "calls into question its motives" for pursuing enrichment.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi today welcomed any future visit of the head of Russia's Rosatom nuclear agency, Sergei Kiriyenko.

Speaking on Iranian state TV, Salehi said that when Kiriyenko came to Iran, "together we will go to Bushehr, where we will bear witness to fuel being transferred from an exterior to a main base.

"There -- where the fuel is outside the main Bushehr plant -- it will be transferred to a main building and it will be placed in a tank," he continued.

"There are approximately 163 units of fuel. Seven or eight days after the fuel is transferred to the main building, we will begin to transfer fuel from the tank in the main building to the heart of the reactor."

Russia in 1995 agreed to build the Bushehr plant -- a project originally started by the German company Siemens in the 1970s -- but the $1 billion project was stymied for over a decade by delays and politicization.

The United States has criticized Russia over the project because of broader concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The West fears Iran's nuclear program is intent on making a bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Officials say the Bushehr plant, which is to be monitored by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, poses little proliferation risk.