Iran orders up feasibility study for second nuclear plant

Friday, December 13, 2002

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran is considering construction of a second major nuclear power plant, state-run television reported Thursday, despite U.S. concern that byproducts from Iranian plants could be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Iran's Atomic Energy Council ordered a feasibility study on a second plant as the country's first nuclear power station at Bushehr prepares to go online next year with Russian help.

"The council has authorized Iran's Atomic Energy Organization to study the construction of a new 1000-megawatt plant with due consideration of environmental standards using the experience achieved from the completion of the first unit of Bushehr nuclear power plant," Tehran television reported.

It said the decision was made during a council meeting Wednesday attended by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref.

It was not clear if Russia would be involved in the construction of the new plant. The Kremlin has floated preliminary plans to help Iran build five more nuclear reactors over the next 10 years.

Russia has hundreds of specialists working at the Bushehr plant, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2003.

The United States fears the plant will help Iran manufacture nuclear weapons.

Both Russia and Iran insist that the Bushehr plant will be strictly for civilian purposes and open to international inspection. However, successive U.S. administrations have expressed concern over the plant.

The Bush administration has offered Russia economic incentives to abandon the Bushehr project but the Russians have not accepted the offer. Russia has denied consistently it is helping Iran develop nuclear weapons or with its missiles program.

In September, Russia drew up a plan in September for the return of spent nuclear fuel from Bushehr, seeking to allay U.S. concerns that the fuel could be used by terrorists and others to build weapons of mass destruction.

The Bushehr plant was begun by the West Germans but was interrupted during the 1979 Islamic revolution. It's worth about US$800 million to Russia, which has been reluctant to abandon the project both for economic reasons and matters of international prestige.

Meanwhile, Iran's Atomic Energy Council has approved a broad plan to dramatically increase the country's nuclear energy capabilities by 2021, a newspaper reported Thursday.

"The council approved (a plan stipulating) that the share of electricity provided by nuclear energy should reach 6000 megawatts by 2021," the daily Mardom-Salari, or Democracy, reported. It gave no further details. Iranian atomic energy officials were not available for a comment.

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