(Updates with possibility of further Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation from ninth paragraph.)
Sept. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Iran, which has been punished by international sanctions over its nuclear program, inaugurated its first atomic power plant, officially linking it to the country’s electricity grid.
The Russian-built power station is “a symbol of Iranian- Russian cooperation,” Russia’s energy minister, Sergei Shmatko, said in an address aired live on state television. Shmatko, who arrived in Tehran yesterday, spoke in an official ceremony today at the plant near the southern port city of Bushehr.
The 1,000-megawatt plant will start generating electricity at up to 40 percent of its capacity, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Tehran yesterday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. It will reach full capacity by the end of the year, Iranian officials have said.
The U.S. and the European Union say sanctions against Iran are justified because its nuclear program may be a cover for the development of atomic weapons. Iran rejects the allegation, saying it needs nuclear power to meet the energy needs of its growing population.
Bushehr joined the national electricity network with initial production of 60 megawatts Sept. 3. Power generation at the plant, which officials had estimated would start as early as 2009, was repeatedly delayed because of technical problems and the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
Started in 1974
Construction of the Bushehr facility was started in 1974 by a predecessor of Siemens AG, Germany’s largest engineering company. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the monarchy, the Germans quit, saying payments had been delayed.
Russia took over the work after signing a $1 billion contract in 1995, four years after the breakup of the Soviet Union left the nation’s nuclear industry short of funds and domestic orders.
Russia is supplying fuel for the Bushehr reactor and will take away the used material. Enriched uranium, which is used to fuel nuclear power plants, can also be diverted to make nuclear weapons.
Shmatko said today that his country would be willing to cooperate on further nuclear projects with Iran, which says it needs enough reactors to generate a total of 20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020.
“Taking into account the trust that has been built by working with our Iranian partners, Russia would be fully willing to cooperate on other nuclear power plants in Iran,” Shmatko said in a press conference shown live on television following the inauguration ceremony.
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi, echoed his comments.
“The good experience we’ve had with Russia encourages us to have greater cooperation and we welcome all proposals that maintain the two countries’ interests,” Abbasi said, speaking at the same press conference.
The nuclear power plant will be disconnected from the national grid some time after today’s ceremony for tests to be carried over “several weeks” until it can operate at full capacity, Press TV said.
--Editor: Ben Holland, Louis Meixler.
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