Iran says nuclear reactor is weeks from operating at full capacity

An October 2010 photo shows the reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran.
An October 2010 photo shows the reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran.

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant is just weeks from operating at full capacity, the country's top nuclear official said Saturday.

Feireidoun Abbasi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, also said Tehran has shown its new Iranian-made centrifuges to a representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Bushehr plant, located along the Persian Gulf coast, will reach its full capacity of 1,000 megawatts by February 1, Abbasi said, according to the country's official news agency, IRNA.

The plant was connected to the country's electric grid in September with a capacity of 60 megawatts. At 1,000 megawatts, Bushehr will be able to provide 2.5% of Iran's current electricity consumption, the IAEA said.

Abbasi made the announcement about Bushehr while attending a meeting on Iran's nuclear achievements held in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas.

He told the meeting that Tehran had shown the new generation of its homemade centrifuge machines to the IAEA "in a bid to demonstrate the ability of Iranian scientists," he said.

Abbasi said the centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, were shown to the deputy of IAEA, Director-General Yukiya Amano, but he did not say when.

It was not immediately clear whether an IAEA representative had in fact been to Iran and seen the centrifuges.

The new centrifuges will enable Iran to enrich uranium over the current purity level of 5%, according to experts cited by the news agency.

Uranium enriched to between 3% and 5% is necessary to make fuel for reactors. Uranium enriched to 93.5% is considered weapons-grade.

The construction of Bushehr -- a civilian, not military, plant -- started in 1975 when Germany signed a contract with Iran. Germany, however, pulled out of the project following the 1979 revolution that created the current Islamic republic.

Iran then signed a deal with Russia in 1995, under which the plant was originally scheduled to be completed in 1999, but the project was delayed repeatedly. Bushehr finally opened in August 2010.

The United States and other Western nations have expressed concerns that Iran's development of missile and nuclear fuel technology mean it is developing a nuclear program for military purposes.

The IAEA said in a November report that it has "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program. The agency said it has information indicating Iran has carried out "activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."

Iran has denied such allegations, saying the Bushehr plant will be used only to generate electricity and operates under IAEA supervision.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the concern is not the Bushehr plant, but other nuclear facilities like Natanz, in the middle of the country; a facility at Qom, south of Tehran; "and other places where we believe they are conducting their weapons program."

World News Today

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