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Russia To Start Iran Nuclear Plant By Year-End

Russian and Iranian workers at the Bushehr reactor core (file photo)
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia plans to start up a nuclear reactor at Iran's Bushehr plant by the end of the year, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation has said.

"If there are no unforeseen events...then the launch will go according to the timetable," Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko told reporters in the Kremlin.

"The launch is scheduled for this year," he said. "I plan to be at the Bushehr plant in February."

A spokesman for Rosatom said Kiriyenko was talking about the so-called "technical" start-up, which will be the first time the reactor is fully switched on and aims to test its systems before electricity is supplied to the grid.

The start up the Bushehr plant's nuclear reactor has frequently been delayed, though Russia last year completed delivery of nuclear fuel to the station under a total contract estimated to be worth about $1 billion.

Russia agreed to build the plant in 1995 on the site of an earlier project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The Siemens project was disrupted by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Analysts say Russia has used Bushehr as a lever in relations with Tehran, which is suspected by the United States and some European countries of seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Russian ministers have said they have seen no hard evidence that Tehran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon, while Iran says it has a right to a civilian nuclear program for its energy needs.

Some European diplomats say Russia's leverage with Tehran has played a constructive role in international talks on Iran and cite joint work on Iran as an example of cooperation between powers.

But switching on the Bushehr plant could still dismay some in the United States, Israel, and Europe who are deeply suspicious of Iran's intentions.

Russian nuclear officials say the plant is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons program.