Iran's nuclear plant in Bushehr will reach full capacity on by the end of the month, Tehran's top nuclear official said on Saturday, after claiming that the Islamic Republic was ready to export nuclear technology to friendly nations in Africa.
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The announcement by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency Fereydoun Abbasi came following the May launch of the nuclear power plant, and despite being allegedly hit by the Stuxnet computer virus in 2010.
Speaking to the semi-official Fars news agency on Saturday, Abbasi said that the "Bushehr plant, located along the Persian Gulf coast, will reach its full capacity of 1,000 megawatts by February 1." In the past, Iranian officials indicated that the plant would supply 2.5 percent of the country's electricity demands.
Despite Abbasi's comments, delays have been plaguing the Bushehr plant ever since its construction began in the 1970s by a German consortium, only to be abandoned after Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. These holdups returned even after Russia began work to complete it under a billion-dollar deal with Tehran in the mid-1990s.
Also on Saturday, Abbasi said that Iran would be both willing and able to share its nuclear technology with other nations, saying: "At present we are capable of exporting nuclear services to the friendly countries in Africa which own considerable uranium resources."
Abbasi made the remarks on the sidelines an exhibition celebrating Iran's nuclear achievements in the city of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran.
Speaking on the subject of Iran's nuclear program on Sunday, Tehran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast told Fars that "enrichment activities will never be given up in our country. The nuclear program of our country is totally peaceful and is a basic right of our nation."
When asked about the possibility of nuclear talks with the West, the Iranian official said that Iran was "ready for the talks."
"We have always said that we are ready for the talks and have always pointed out that the talks should aim at cooperation between the two sides, that is, to decide to talk for cooperation instead of confrontation," he added.
The Iranian official made the comments as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad started a tour of South America on Sunday, in an attempt to tout some of Iran's few friendships while tensions grow over the country's threats to block oil shipments in retaliation for tighter U.S. sanctions.
Iran's growing economic ties with Latin America could give it some breathing space from the sanctions, and by embracing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his allies, Ahmadinejad also gets a chance to join like-minded leaders in denouncing U.S. ¬foreign policy.
"Iran needs all the friends it can get, and the further away it goes the easier it seems to be for it to be able to find them," said Dan Plesch, director of the University of London's Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy.
Both Iran and Venezuela, he said, "seek to provide mutual support in the face of perceived U.S. aggression."
It will be Ahmadinejad's fifth visit to Venezuela, to be followed by a trip to Nicaragua for Tuesday's inauguration of re-elected President Daniel Ortega, and then stops in Cuba and Ecuador. Ahmadinejad has been to all the countries before, and the visit seems aimed at reinforcing ties with leaders who speak up for Iran.