A nuclear reactor in Bushehr
A nuclear reactor in Bushehr, Iran. Photo by Bloomberg
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A semi-official Iranian news agency says an Iranian F4 fighter jet has crashed in the country's south, near a nuclear power plant that is expected to be launched next month.

Local government official Gholam Reza Keshtkar says the Iranian airforce plane crashed on Tuesday, about 6 kilometers north of the city of Bushehr.

Bushehr is 1,200 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran.

Keshtkar says the pilot and co-pilot ejected from the plane before it crashed but were rushed to the hospital in the city. He didn't provide other details.

On Friday, Russia said it will begin loading nuclear fuel into the Bushehr reactor, Iran's first atomic power station on August 21, an irreversible step marking the start-up of the Bushehr plant after nearly 40 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 e1 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.