Saturday, September 28, 2013

Russia's Nuclear Power Contract with Iran

On September 23rd, Russia announced that it had handed over operational control of the Bushehr nuclear power plant to Iran. However, Russian specialists would remain at the facility throughout its 2-year “warranty period.”

The nuclear facility at Bushehr was the focus of a considerable amount of controversy, especially in the United States. The reactor was being built under an agreement between the Russian and Iranian governments for $800-million. Although originally intended to be the location of a German-built reactor in the 1970s, the new reactor was to be built to Russian design specifications, though the original reactor buildings exterior appearance would remain essentially the same. There were two reactors at Bushehr, one was in an advanced stage of completion the other had not been worked on for some time and was not scheduled to be completed as of 2006.

Iran was a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), though it had not ratified two additional protocols to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Program 93 + 2, which was designed to prevent states from developing nuclear weapons covertly, despite IAEA inspections, as Iraq was able to do prior to the Gulf War. Iran maintained that it would not ratify 93 + 2 due to it being denied civilian nuclear technology for Bushehr, despite its positive record with the IAEA.

Nuclear power industry contacts between Iran and Russia were based on the inter-governmental agreements of 25 August 1992, on cooperation in the civil use of nuclear energy and in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran.
Additional Reactors

Iran had also been considering the construction of three to five additional reactor facilities, which might or might not be located at Bushehr, for an estimated cost of $3.2 billion. A 5 September 2001 Moscow Times report indicated that the Russians would be submitting plans for the construction of additional reactors at Bushehr and that negotiations could begin as soon as December 2001, though the number of reactors being proposed was unclear and it was not apparrent how much the project might cost. It was estimated that the total cost of building the reactor complex at Bushehr may be roughly $4-6 billion since construction began in 1976.

During a March 2001 Moscow summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Khatami confirmed plans to order a second reactor after the first was delivered, possibly by late 2002. The Iranian leader signaled his intention to proceed with a second contract that could be worth up to $1 billion.

On 26 July 2002 the Russian government indicated that it planned to continue building new nuclear reactors in Iran as part of a draft plan outlining potential areas of economic, industrial and scientific cooperation with Iran over the coming decade. The document approved by Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov outlined plans to build three more reactors at the Bushehr site. The document also indicated that Russia would offer to build two more reactors at a new nuclear power station at Ahwaz, a city about 60 miles from Iran's border with Iraq. These plans were apparently shelved after complaints by the United States.

In was reported on by IRNA on 26 August 2003, that Iran had received from Russia feasibility studies for a second reactor at Bushehr. According to that report, Russian specialists believed that it would be more practical to build two reactors from scratch rather than continue working on the reactor that had been abandoned by Siemens under pressure from the United States. The studies had been achieved by the time of Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev's visit to Tehran in December 2002.

Calls for additional power plant construction were made again by the Chairman of Majlis Energy Commission in October 2004, who sought approval for 9 more power plants. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in November 2006 that the AEOI had been given 20 licenses for the establishment of additional nuclear power plants. However, by July 2008 Iran was said to be looking to build only 19 more reactors, six of them by 2020. One of these reactors was reported to be planned for construction in Darkhoyen, construction of which had been announced in December 2005.
Beginning of Operations at Bushehr

On 13 August 2010, the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) announced that the first reactor at the Bushehr NPP would be loaded with nuclear fuel on 21 August 2010 and would henceforth make the Bushehr facility qualified as an operational nuclear power plant. The process for transferring the fuel to the pool located near the heart of reactor was estimated to take seven to eight days. It was expected at that time that the Bushehr NPP would come online by September 2010. It was reported on 27 November 2010 that the plant's reactor was fully loaded after numerous delays. Russia's contractor Atomstroiexport confirmed this on 2 December 2010.

In February 2011, it was reported that the fuel rods were being removed from the Bushehr NPP. Iranian officials stressed that the activities and associated delays were entirely normal and routine. Foreign observers believed that the issues were more a matter of technical competence or issues regarding the Russian technology used to build the reactor, rather than issues stemming from release of the Stuxnet computer virus into computers related to Iran's nuclear infrastructure in the fall of 2010. The Stuxnet virus has primarily affected uranium enrichment operations, such as the operation of centrifuges at Natanz. Iranian authorities later blamed the delays on the Russian contractors.

In early September 2011, Iran reported that the Bushehr NPP had been reloaded with fuel and successfully connected to the nation's power grid. The facility had come online on 3 September 2011, with the power of 60 megawatt after successfully passing a number of unspecified tests. The plant was officially launched on 12 September 2011 after numerous delays. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said during a press conference that "The power plant will be disconnected for different tests some time after the connection. The tests might take several weeks. The power plant will regain the power and will obtain its 100 percent power of 900-1000 megawatt." The Bushehr nuclear power plant had joined Iran's national power grid with a capacity of around 60 megawatts at 11:29 p.m. (1859 GMT) 10 September 2011.

Source:  Global Security

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