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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry: No Reason Yet to Stop Bushehr

Russia will not suspend construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran unless the UN International Atomic Energy Agency finds solid evidence that Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program, the Nuclear Power Ministry said Thursday.

"There have to be solid reasons presented before one suspends cooperation," a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

IAEA has prepared a confidential report confirming that its inspectors had found particles of weapons-grade uranium at a nuclear facility at Natanz, the Western press reported earlier this week.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on Thursday confirmed that inspectors had found traces of enriched uranium in Natanz, Reuters reported.

The leak of the report prompted Washington, which has accused Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons, to renew its call for Russia to suspend construction of the Bushehr plant. According to the Russian official, however, the recently found particles of highly enriched uranium do not qualify as a smoking gun, given the possibility and Iran's assurances that the substance was brought in on previously imported equipment.

Thus, the official said, Russia does not expect IAEA at its Sept. 8 meeting to find Iran in noncompliance with the nonproliferation treaty, which would require the nuclear watchdog to submit the issue to the UN Security Council.

He repeated the ministry's position that Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran is "transparent" and adheres to the nonproliferation treaty and other international nuclear safeguards. He said Russia will complete construction of the first reactor of the Bushehr plant in 2004 but may send the first batch of nuclear fuel to Iran this year.

Representatives of the Nuclear Power Ministry and their Iranian counterparts will meet in September to sign an agreement that would require Iran to ship all spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr back to Russia.

During the meeting, the Russian side will again call upon Iran to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that would enable the IAEA to conduct random inspections, the official said. However, the ministry-controlled contractors will complete Bushehr's first reactor, construction of which was started but then abandoned by Germany's Siemens, even if Iran refuses, the official said. Iran has agreed to sign the protocol, but the on condition that it is given broad access to peaceful nuclear technologies as stipulated in the treaty.

While its contractors are busy completing the first reactor, the Nuclear Power Ministry advised Iran not to complete the second reactor. A feasibility study, which was conducted by the ministry earlier this year, shows that it would be more cost-efficient to build a new reactor from scratch, the official said.

While the first reactor was 70 percent ready when abandoned by Siemens, the second one is only 40 percent ready, according to the study, which was commissioned by the Iranian side in December and delivered to Tehran in August.

The United States realizes that Russia will not abandon construction of the first reactor, but still keeps up the pressure in an effort to prevent Moscow and Tehran from clinching further nuclear construction deals, according to Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow representative of the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.