Russia to build nuclear plants in Iran

The Russian'built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. Picture: Getty

The Russian'built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran. Picture: Getty

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RUSSIA has agreed to build up to eight nuclear reactors in Iran, days before a deadline for a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity.

The agreement envisages the construction of two reactors, with scope for a further six.

World powers including Russia have been pressing Iran to limit its activity, amid fears it wants to build a bomb. Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.

Diplomats are due to meet for a final round of talks next week. It is unclear what impact the Russian deal will have.

A senior Russian diplomat expressed optimism yesterday that a deal could be reached before the end of the month between the world powers and ­Tehran on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme despite “deep gaps” on some issues.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow was doing all it could to help secure an agreement that would provide assurances to the West that Tehran’s programme was not intended to build weapons.

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Iran and six world powers – the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – face a 24 November deadline for agreement.

The six powers are seeking to persuade Iran to ­reduce its uranium enrichment to a level below that required to build a weapon. They have offered to lift economic sanctions in exchange.

Mr Ryabkov, who was present at the latest talks in Oman’s capital, Muscat, this week, said: “We aren’t looking at the possibility of not reaching a deal by 24 November. We are focused completely on the task before us, in so far as we have a chance, and it’s not small. We can’t miss [the opportunity].”

Russia has warmer relations with Tehran than the other powers taking part in the talks. It is closely ­involved in developing Iran’s nuclear energy programme, having already set up one generator in Bushehr.

One of the West’s chief concerns is Tehran’s capacity to refine uranium quickly, which could open the way to arms production. Iran confirmed it had tested a new centrifuge that could speed uranium enrichment but dismissed suggestions it may have breached last year’s interim deal with world powers.

That deal said Tehran could continue its “current enrichment R&D [research and development] practices”, language that implies it should not expand them. However, the talks in Muscat produced no big breakthrough.

Mr Ryabkov said: “The main obstacles are the inability of all parties to build bridges over the still deep gaps on issues like ­enrichment and sanctions.”

A US state department ­official said on Tuesday there was “more work to do”, while Iran’s top ­negotiator said he was “not in a position to claim that progress has been achieved”.

Russia’s agreement to supply Iran with two further nuclear reactors at the Bushehr site, with the possibility of six more in the future, appears to run counter to western efforts to isolate the Iranian regime.

However, it may ultimately have a positive impact on the long-running nuclear stand-off.

While Russia plans to provide some assistance to Iran with the fabrication of nuclear fuel, the reactors will essentially use Russian-supplied fuel. All the indications are that, when spent, this will be returned to Russia for ­re-processing.

Russian news reports quoted Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, as saying the agreement on building the new ­reactors was “a turning point in the development of relations ­between our countries”.

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