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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Reactors in Iran Raise Weapons Worries

A contract Russia has signed to build two nuclear reactors in Iran will replace a German project abandoned due to fears of nuclear weapons proliferation, an official for the International Atomic Energy Association said Thursday.

"I cannot speak for the German government, but I can only think that they had political difficulties with building large reactors in Iran", said David Kyd, Director of the information department at the IAEA in Vienna.

"I believe they were worried about the dangers to nonproliferation".

Kyd said that it was not yet known what would happen to the spent nuclear fuel that the Iranian plant would begin to produce in about 20 years. It is that fuel, he said, that could cause international concern.

"As we have seen in North Korea and Iraq, it is possible for countries without high-tech nuclear plants to reprocess small quantities of spent fuel into plutonium for weapons", he said. Kyd added that it was assumed Russia would take back the spent fuel as part of the deal and that he saw no reason why the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation could not be prevented through inspections.

He said Bonn halted construction of reactors for Iran begun by the Siemens company in 1975. The project was stopped when the reactors were half built. As the Iranians had paid in advance, the case is now in arbitration by the International Chamber of Commerce, Kyd added.

Iran is planning to buy another reactor from China, he said, while Russia is discussing the sale of reactors to India.

Itar-Tass on Wednesday quoted a Russian nuclear official who confirmed the Iranian deal, saying that it would consist of two pressurized water-cooled reactors to be completed in seven or eight years.

Eduard Ekopyan, who handles Russian contracts to build nuclear plants abroad, said the reactors would include "all the latest improvements".

According to Kyd the reactors are of the VVER 440 type and the most likely site for their construction is at Gorgan, in the northeast of Iran on the Caspian Sea.

He called the VVER 440 "a workhorse reactor with many years experience", which had never had a serious accident. He stressed that it was of a different design from the RMBK reactor that exploded at Chernobyl in l986.

"The Russians have had a lot of opportunity to gain experience with the VVER 440 and can build in the latest Western-type safety features", said Kyd.