Iranians and Russians at odds over unloading fuel rods from nuke plant: will Iran risk meltdown?
Iran has not yet removed fuel rods from its Bushehr nuclear power plant, its foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, signalling a further possible delay to the Russian-built plant's launch date and suggesting a dispute with Russian advisers over the issue.
Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog had said on Feb. 26 that Tehran was compelled to remove fuel from the reactor of its only nuclear power station, the latest glitch to hit Bushehr in Iran's decades-long attempts to bring it on line. Israel Insider sources reported that the reasons was that the Russians considered the plant too unstable to risk bring it online under current conditions.
But foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told Reuters: "The nuclear fuel has not been unloaded at the Bushehr power plant and this plant is continuing its routine activities." He then blamed the Russians for causing a delay: "We hope that Russia can meet the schedule ... and have the Bushehr plant join Iran's national grid on time."
It was not clear when the removal of the fuel might begin or if Iran may openly defy the Russians and try to put the plant online, despite the risk -- a danger which includes a meltdown that could expose the Iranian population to lethal radiation. Amid confusion over the status of the plant, Iranian officials have said the fuel was being unloaded for tests on the advice of Russian engineers, and that it was being removed for safety reasons. Russia's state-run nuclear agency said on Monday that the problem was caused by damage to internal elements in a cooling pump. However, it is widely believed to be the result of the Stuxnet computer worm that has reported infected the plant and other Iranian nuclear facilities.
Russia's NATO ambassador has said the computer virus could trigge ra nuclear disaster even greater than the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.
Further delays could be an embarrassment not only to Iranian politicians who have made Bushehr the showpiece of what they insist are Tehran's peaceful nuclear ambitions. Many analysts believe Stuxnet was a cyber attack by Israel and possibly others aimed at disabling Iran's nuclear equipment and slowing down a program they suspect is aimed at making nuclear weapons, something Tehran denies.
Iranian officials have confirmed Stuxnet hit staff computers at Bushehr but said it did not affect major systems. That claims is widely discounted.