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Russia pledges to finish iran reactor { May 17 2004 }

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Monday, May 17, 2004. Page 3.

Russia Pledges to Finish Iran Reactor

Reuters BERLIN -- Russia will finish a nuclear reactor in Iran despite technical complications, unresolved commercial issues and strong objections from the United States, a senior official said Friday.

Sergei Antipov, deputy head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, said strict UN controls will ensure no fuel can be diverted to build a nuclear bomb.

The United States accuses Iran of trying to build such a bomb under the cover of what Tehran insists is a peaceful nuclear energy program based around the planned $800 million Russian-built reactor at Bushehr.

Antipov said Moscow will supply fuel for the reactor only on the condition that spent fuel be returned, although he said the commercial terms for this have not yet been agreed with Iran.

"Definitely, that is our demand. Otherwise we won't supply it," Antipov said in an interview during a visit to Germany. "The only question that's being discussed is price."

He said the Iranians are arguing that Moscow should sell the fuel more cheaply if it is going to take it back at the end of the reactor cycle. "It's a commercial issue, not a defense or technical question," he said.

Antipov also said construction at Bushehr, whose launch is scheduled for 2006, is being slowed down by technical factors. "There are some technical complications connected to the fact construction of this station started many years ago and a lot of equipment was supplied by Germany. Now, to activate that equipment -- a lot of it is past its expiry date -- it needs to be rechecked and retested," he said. "All the delays are connected with purely technical engineering questions."

Iran was found to have made omissions from what it had said last October was a full declaration of its nuclear activities, and the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said earlier this month that the world would not wait forever for it to "come clean."

Antipov said the watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, maintained strict controls on Iran's nuclear activities at all stages.

"Material must not be outside control for a second. It's an absolutely closed fuel cycle. At no point can fuel be diverted or extracted for nuclear weapons," he said.

He said objections to Russia's involvement in building Bushehr were based on commercial motives, not security concerns.

"All the accusations against Russia in my personal opinion arise from our unscrupulous rivals in this field. If Russia is forced to give up the construction of the reactor in Iran, I assure you that in a very short time this reactor or reactors will be built by other countries," Antipov said.

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