TEHRAN, Iran—Iran’s nuclear chief said Saturday the country’s first nuclear power plant has been loaded up with fuel required for it to go on line, an incremental step bringing Iran closer to nuclear-generated electricity.
Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said it will take another month or two before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor at Bushehr begins pumping electricity to Iranian cities.
Bushehr is not part of Iran’s nuclear program that is a serious concern to the West, which suspects Tehran of trying to produce an atomic bomb. Iran has been slapped with four rounds of U.N. sanctions because of its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to weapons making that is the source of the contention with the West.
Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity and nuclear medical radioisotopes needed to treat patients.
“We sealed the lid of the reactor without any propaganda and fuss,” Salehi was quoted as saying by the Fars semi-official news agency. “All fuel assemblies have been loaded into the core of the reactor.”
The fueling up started in August. Now that it’s completed, Salehi said all that remains to be done is to wait for the water inside the reactor’s core to gradually reach a desired temperature, after which a series of tests need to be carried out.
“We hope the Bushehr power plant will be connected to the country’s national power grid within the next one or two months,” Salehi added.
Iran began loading the Russian-built Bushehr with low-enriched uranium fuel in August. At the time, Salehi said the fueling up would take place over two weeks and that the plant could produce electricity by late November.
However, last month he announced a delay in Bushehr’s start up, saying it was the result of a “small leak” in a storage pool where the plant’s fuel was being held—and not a computer worm that was found on the laptops of several plant employees.
Iranian officials say they have vigorously battled the Stuxnet computer worm, which they suspect is part of a covert plot by the West to damage Iran’s nuclear program.
Salehi again insisted this week that the computer worm has not affected Iran’s nuclear program.