TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran expects its first nuclear power plant will produce electricity at full capacity in around a year after passing a "critical stage" with the delivery of fuel from Russia, a top official said on Tuesday.
The 1,000 megawatt plant in the southern city of Bushehr could come on line within three months at up to 200 megawatts before being cranked up to full capacity nine months later, said Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation.
"We have passed a key and critical stage now" with the delivery of the fuel on Monday from Russia, he was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA agency.
"We could see the start-up in a two or three months' time. We wait for the final agreement which is due within a month from now," he said, without specifying what this agreement entailed.
"As of Farvardin (the Iranian month beginning end-March), we will run some equipment.
"In the start-up stage, we will begin at a low capacity of 100 or 200 megawatts and in about nine months we will reach the full capacity of 1,000 megawatts."
Saeedi said that all the main equipment at Bushehr had been installed by Russian contractor Atomstroiexport and the plant was "95 percent finished."
"The reactor, turbine, generators and pumps have been tested. The remaining five percent includes a series of secondary equipment... like ventilation systems or some cables.
"There is no barrier in the way of operations in Bushehr."
The United States and Russia said that Moscow's delivery of the nuclear fuel for the plant showed that Tehran did not need to use the sensitive process of uranium enrichment to make its own fuel.
US President George W. Bush said Iran now had to halt its enrichment of uranium, a process that can be used to make both nuclear fuel and the highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear bomb.
"Iran was a threat to peace, Iran is a threat to peace, and Iran will be a threat to peace if we don't stop their enrichment," he said in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
But Saeedi rejected the international calls, saying Iran wanted to use a mix of fuel produced abroad and at home. "We should adopt a policy that enables us to produce a part of the (needed) fuel."
Tehran also announced on Monday that it was working on a new 360 megawatt nuclear power plant, revealing for the first time that it would be located in Darkhoyen in the western Khuzestan province.
"We have decided the location and site for Darkhoyen and its design has been defined," said Saeedi, adding that Iran would seek to build more medium-sized nuclear power plants in the future.
Like Bushehr, Darkhoyen is a project dating back to before the 1979 Islamic revolution that is now being revived by the Iranian authorities.
Saeedi also vowed that Iran would be carrying out further searches for raw uranium ore to add to the country's three existing mines in Saghand, Anarak and Gchin.
"Within the next three or four years with the budget allocated by the government we will carry out airborne searches for the rest of the country," said Saeedi.
"No one can certainly and precisely say whether we have uranium in the rest of the country or not."
Western powers fear Iran could use uranium enrichment technology to make a nuclear bomb but Tehran insists it only wants to generate electricity for a growing population whose fossil fuels will eventually run out.
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