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Some computer experts believe Stuxnet was the work of Israel or the United States, two nations convinced that Iran wants to turn nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium.

The Islamic Republic is reluctant to acknowledge setbacks to its nuclear activities, which it says are aimed at generating energy but are under U.N. sanctions because of concerns they could be channeled toward making weapons. Only after outside revelations that its enrichment program was temporarily disrupted late last year by Stuxnet did Iranian officials acknowledge the incident.

The startup of the Bushehr power plant, a project completed with Russian help but beset by years of delays, would deliver Iran the central stated goal of its atomic work — the generation of nuclear power.

But the inauguration of the facility has been delayed for years. Iran said when it began inserting the fuel rods in October that the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor would begin pumping electricity to Iranian cities by December. But it pushed back the timing to February, citing a “small leak” and other unspecified reasons.

The Bushehr plant itself is not among the West’s main worries because safeguards are in place to ensure that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia and cannot be diverted to weapons making.

The United States and some of its allies believe the Bushehr plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as cover for a covert program to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the accusation.

The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran’s U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the shah and brought hard-line clerics to power.

In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995.

Under the contract, Bushehr was originally scheduled to come on stream in July 1999 but the startup has been delayed repeatedly by construction and supply glitches.

Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed to this report from Vienna.