Russia plans to start up Iran nuclear plant in 2009
Launch of Bushehr reactor likely to stoke fears over Iran's suspected intention to build nuke weapons.
Russia plans to start up a nuclear reactor at Iran's Bushehr plant by the end of the year, the head of Russia's state nuclear corporation said on Thursday.
The move is likely to stoke fears over Iran's suspected intention to build atomic weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for purely civilian purposes.
Israel has expressed concern about the Bushehr plant and said last year that Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2010.
The plant is situated on the Gulf coast in southwest Iran. It is Iran's first nuclear power plant.
Russia agreed in 1995 to build the plant on the site of an earlier project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The Siemens project was disrupted by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The details of the contract are state secrets in Russia but its value is said to be around $1 billion.
Analysts say Iran could become a key issue in relations between President Dmitry Medvedev and new United States President Barack Obama, who said last month that America was prepared to talk to Tehran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly said Moscow does not want Iran to be armed with nuclear weapons but that Russia sees no evidence Tehran is seeking to build atomic bombs.
This month, world powers, meeting for the first time on Iran since Obama took office, urged Iran to comply fully with UN demands, which include a halt to uranium enrichment and opening up to a UN nuclear watchdog investigation.
Atomstroyexport, a part of Russia's state owned nuclear holding, is building the plant.
The firm said in November it would increase personnel at the plant by a least 25 percent as it prepared to the reactor for start up. Rosatom Chief Sergei Kiriyenko said he would visit the plant at the end of February.
Russia started delivery of nuclear fuel to the plant in late 2007 and deliveries were completed last year. Russia and Washington agree importing fuel makes unnecessary Iran's own plutonium enrichment project - the main point of Western concerns.
The launch of the Bushehr plant's nuclear reactor has frequently been delayed, ever since work began in the 1970s.
Russian and Iranian officials have given different dates for the start-up and the two sides had a row in 2007 over what Moscow said were major payment delays.
Russian nuclear officials say the plant cannot be used to build nuclear weapons. Russia has tried to push Tehran to be more open about its nuclear program but has warned the West against pushing Iran's leaders into a corner.