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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Offers Chance to Build More Reactors

The head of Iran's nuclear energy program on Wednesday held out the prospect of hiring Russia to build more nuclear power plants after it finishes the construction of the Bushehr plant.

"In addition to Bushehr, we plan to build several more nuclear power stations with the overall power capacity of 6,000 megawatts, and we are offering Russia to take advantage of these opportunities," Gholamreza Aghazadeh was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

The Nuclear Power Ministry responded quickly to the offer by saying it is ready to consider it. Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shinkarev told the BBC that Russia could pursue these projects as long as they are under the full oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency and do not violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Neither Aghazadeh, who is on a four-day visit to Moscow, nor Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev mentioned it at their news conference on Wednesday evening, however. Instead, they vowed to continue cooperating on the Bushehr project. Rumyantsev said the first of the plant's four reactors is nearing completion. Plans call for it to go into service next year.

Both the Nuclear Power and Foreign ministries have urged Iran to sign a protocol that would allow the IAEA to conduct comprehensive inspections of all of its nuclear facilities

However, even if Iran does not sign the protocol, Rumyantsev's ministry has said the construction of Bushehr will continue and nuclear fuel will be supplied, as long as Iran agrees to return all the spent fuel to Russia. This is to prevent Iran from enriching the spent fuel to weapons-grade.

An agreement on return of the spent fuel has already been drafted and it meets "all international requirements," Rumyantsev said at the news conference. Aghazadeh acknowledged that such an agreement must be signed.

Aghazadeh has held talks with Rumyantsev, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo since his arrival Monday. He and Rumyantsev said no agreements of any kind have been signed.

Rumyantsev announced last July that the cooperation with Iran in developing its nuclear-power industry would end with the $1 billion project at Bushehr.

Several weeks later, however, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a document that indicated Russia would not only build four reactors at Bushehr but may also offer to build two more reactors at a new nuclear power station at Akhvaz, a city about 100 kilometers from Iran's border with Iraq.

So far, however, only one of the four reactors at Bushehr is nearing completion.

Given the strong pressure from the United States and its allies, Russia would not want to "move beyond Bushehr" even though construction of new nuclear power plants in Iran would generate billions of dollars for Russia's cash-strapped nuclear power industry, said Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

However, Russia and Iran may still continue to publicly discuss new deals so that they can strengthen their negotiating positions vis-a-vis the United States and complete Bushehr, Safranchuk said Wednesday.