Russia will begin loading nuclear fuel into Iran's first atomic power station (Bushehr plant) this month. Russia agreed in 1995 to build the Bushehr plant on the site of a project begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. The $1 billion project is opposed by the United States, Israel and other countries in the region because of fears that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear weapons program. However, Iran will be importing the fuel from Russia and returning it to them for reprocessing. Russia notes that this should allay fears that its nuclear energy program could be redirected to develop weapons. Moscow and Washington agree that importing fuel makes unnecessary Iran's own enrichment project — the main focus of Western concerns that Tehran is trying to make a nuclear bomb.
According to Moscow, the Bushehr project has been closely supervised by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Russian officials are pointing out that Iran has signed a pledge to ship all the spent uranium fuel from Bushehr back to Russia for reprocessing, excluding a possibility that any of it could used to make nuclear weapons.
Russia has insisted that the Bushehr project is essential for persuading Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and fulfill its obligations under international nuclear nonproliferation agreements.
The U.N. Security Council passed a fourth set of sanctions on Iran in June over its nuclear program. The move followed Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process which can be used for the production of fuel for power plants as well as material for nuclear warheads if enriched to a higher level. Russian is one of the six powers leading international efforts to ensure Iran does not develop an atomic bomb, but is ignoring the latest U.N. sanctions against Iran in fueling the Bushehr project. It has backed U.N. sanctions, but strongly criticized the U.S. and the European Union for following up with separate, even stronger sanctions. (MSNBC.com, 8/13/2010)