Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Russia to Help Iran With Nuclear Reactor; West Worries About Implications

February 09, 2009 01:29 PM
by Josh Katz
Russia’s nuclear agency says it will launch Iran’s first nuclear plant by the end of 2009, causing concern about Russia’s growing relationship with Iran.

Russia to Launch Iran’s Nuclear Reactor By End of Year

Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom says it will start up Iran’s first nuclear power plant by the end of 2009. Russia has helped Iran build the Bushehr plant, and has claimed the plant cannot be used for “military purposes,” according to the BBC.

Some European diplomats argue that Russia’s work on the reactor has been “an example of good cooperation between powers,” according to a Reuters article that appeared in the International Herald Tribune. But some in the United States, Israel and Europe still fear that the plant could have malicious purposes.

The German firm Siemens attempted to build a reactor on the same site in the 1970s. But the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War halted such efforts. Russia agreed to carry on the task in 1995, and has attributed much of the delay to integrating the new materials with old, German ones, according to Reuters in the Tribune.
Russia began delivering nuclear fuel to Bushehr at the end of 2007 and finished the deliveries last year. According to a different Reuters article, “Russia and Washington agree importing fuel makes unnecessary Iran's own plutonium enrichment project—the main point of Western concerns.” Russia argues that Iran cannot convert the technology into a nuclear weapon, however, because Iran will send back all the spent nuclear fuel rods.

The Bushehr plant, located in southwest Iran by the Gulf coast, is the first nuclear power plant in the country. The value of the plant is thought to be around $1 billion.

Background: Iran’s nuclear ambitions

In the mid-1990s, the United States and other countries became suspicious that Iran was pursuing nuclear development, but Iran said it was abiding by the conditions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In response to 2002 suspicions of a secret nuclear program, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said his country would halt work on uranium enrichment and permit more thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, The New York Times writes.

But the more conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005 and he would once again move forward with the enrichment program. Iran has argued that its nuclear development is meant to produce electricity without “dipping into the oil supply it prefers to sell abroad,” according to The New York Times.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iran in December 2006, and the United States and Israel have toyed with the idea of launching attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities since then; but President Barack Obama says he will push for more diplomacy with Iran.

Related Topic: Russia’s relationship to Venezuela worries the United States

A year of sharp exchanges about global expansion and Russia’s increasingly close military and economic relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez culminated in an exchange of direct criticism and threats following the incursion of Russian troops into a breakaway region of neighboring Georgia.

Following the standoff over Georgia’s South Ossetia region, Russia sent warships to Venezuelan borders, further inflaming the tension between Russia’s government and the West.

In January, Russia and Venezuela started drilling natural gas in the waters around the Caribbean island of Aruba, where Venezuela controls 28 fields possessing an estimated 27 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

Chavez recently declared that his country and Russia were “strategic partners” in the exploration of oil and gas. In a televised speech, Chavez said the exploration was “an act of sovereignty, as we are liberated from the evil Yankee imperialism.”

Iran also launched its first domestic satellite into orbit last week, intensifying fears about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, even though officials say the satellite does not have weapons capability. But the rocket used to launch the satellite is apparently capable of launching long-range weapons.

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