Satellite image of the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, January 3, 2002
Satellite image of the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr, January 3, 2002 Photo by Getty
Text size

Israel is unlikely to attack Iran's nuclear reactor in Bushehr, which will soon be online, former U.S. envoy to the United Nations John Bolton told the Fox Business Network on Monday, adding that the Russian-built facility represents a major step forward for Iran's nuclear weapons aspirations.

Russia said Friday that it will begin loading nuclear fuel into the Bushehr reactor, Iran's first atomic power station, on August 21; this is an irreversible step toward the launch of the Bushehr plant after years of delays.

Russia agreed in 1995 to build the Bushehr plant on the site of a project begun in the 1970s by German company Siemens, but delays have haunted the $1 billion project and diplomats say Moscow has used it as a lever in relations with Tehran.

The United States has criticized Moscow for pushing ahead with the Bushehr project at a time when major powers including Russia are pressing Tehran to allay fears that its nuclear energy program may be geared to develop weapons.

But Western fears that the Bushehr project could help Iran develop a nuclear weapon were lessened when Moscow reached an agreement with Tehran obliging it to return spent fuel to Russia. Weapons-grade plutonium can be derived from spent fuel rods.

Speaking to Fox on Monday, Bolton said that Israel was unlikely to attack the Bushehr reactor, saying that "Israel's got a problem."

"Once the fuel rods are inserted into the reactor and attack on the reactor would almost certainly release radiation into the atmosphere, given where Bushehr is located right on the Persian Gulf possibly into the water as well," Bolton said, adding that "from Israel's point of view if they were going to do anything militarily about Bushehr you got a few days until the fuel rods are inserted."

The former UN envoy also said Israel would not attack the reactor since it was interested in the bigger picture of Iran's nuclear aspirations, saying that Israel has "the rest of Iran's nuclear program, the Iranian enrichment facility and so on to worry about too and I don't think Israel has the luxury to attack in the next few days, wait a few months and attack again."

In the interview, Bolton also said that the completion of the reactor was a "significant victory for Iran."

"They will be beginning the process of brining online a 1000 megawatt reactor. When it becomes fully operational the spent fuel coming out of the reactor will be plutonium which could be reprocessed chemically and used for nuclear weapons," Bolton said.

The former ambassador to the UN added that Iran was "on the verge of achieving something that Saddam Hussein was not ale to achieve, Bashar al-Assad in Syria was not able to achieve and that's getting a second route to nuclear weapons."

"It’s a very very significant step forward for the Iranian nuclear program," Bolton said.