- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

BUSHEHR, Iran Iran's first nuclear power plant, which the United States believes can be used to make nuclear bombs, is nearing completion and all major components are installed, Iranian officials said yesterday.
"Over 70 percent of the work has been accomplished," Assadollah Sabori, deputy head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said at a press conference. "The main thing left is shipping nuclear fuel from Russia, which is expected to take place in May."
The United States has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and said the plant will be able to produce nuclear material for a bomb. Iran has insisted the plant will be used to meet the country's growing electricity needs.
[In Vienna, Austria, Russia's nuclear energy minister said that Russia can't tell whether Iran was secretly developing nuclear weapons.
[The Russian minister appeared to be backtracking from a previous assertion that Iran was incapable of building nuclear weapons.
["While Russia is helping Iran build its nuclear power plant, it's not being informed by Iran of all the other projects that are currently under way," Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev told Reuters news agency.]
Mr. Sabori spoke after more than 80 international reporters and photographers toured the facility in southern Iran for the first time yesterday.
Steam generators, pressure vessels, pressurizers and reactor-cooling plants already have been installed. The components, shipped to Iran from Russia in the past 18 months, form the core of a nuclear reactor.
Mr. Sabori said 1,100 Russian experts and more than 3,000 Iranians are working at the plant's first unit. He said Iran had the option of setting up three other reactors at Bushehr, 745 miles southwest of the capital, Tehran.
Iran has said the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant is part of efforts to supply enough electricity to its 66 million people. Iran has approved a plan to produce 6,000 megawatts of power through nuclear energy by 2020.
On Monday, the White House challenged Iran's assertion that it was building the plant strictly for energy production. "We completely reject Iran's claim that it is doing so for peaceful purposes," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
But Naser Shariflou, head of Bushehr, denied that yesterday. "Simply, it is impossible to make a bomb with a plant like this," he said.
Mr. Shariflou said the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency already has installed equipment including cameras to monitor the plant's activity.

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