May 09, 2011
Iran readies Bushehr nuclear plant for start up
After months of delays largely brought about by the attack of the Stuxnet virus, Iran has reloaded the fuel rods at its Russian built Bushehr reactor and is about ready to bring it online.
Fars news agency said Bushehr would start injecting power into the national electricity grid in the next two months.”Right now, after the fuel rods that were unloaded from the reactor core were washed, they are being loaded again and final tests are under way,” Gholamali Miglinejad, a member of a parliamentary committee monitoring Bushehr, was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.
Iran began loading fuel into Bushehr last August in front of foreign and domestic media, touting it as a symbol of resistance to international sanctions imposed by countries that suspect the Islamic state is seeking nuclear weapons, something it denies.
At that time, Iranian officials said it would take two to three months for Bushehr to start producing power, and that it would generate 1,000 megawatts, about 2.5 percent of Iran’s electricity usage. Russia is providing the fuel for Bushehr.
But the start-up of the plant has been hit by several delays since then, with some analysts blaming the mysterious Stuxnet computer virus. Tehran said Stuxnet had afflicted staff computers at Bushehr but not affected major systems there.
Bushehr is a symbol of Iranian expertise at the moment – not a major threat. For the time being, spent fuel rods will be sent to Russia for deprocessing. And Iran has agree to allow IAEA inspectors into the facility.
But this may be only a temporary arrangement. Iran can always renege on their agreements and keep the fuel rods while denying inspectors access.
More likely is that Iran will take the technical know how they learned from Bushehr and build a smaller, secret reactor devoted exclusively to the manufacture of plutonium. Turning spent fuel into plutonium is a laborious task but not beyond the Iranian’s expertise. A plutonium bomb would be more powerful, albeit harder to construct than a U-235 bomb, but again, it is not beyond Iran’s capabilities.
Iran could still run into troubles at Bushehr but it seems likely that they will have the main reactor online in a few weeks.