Moscow readies nuclear fuel for Tehran
to fire-up Iran’s first atomic power station

UN nuclear watchdog will verify delivery

MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russia yesterday gave the clearest indication yet that it was ready to send uranium to fuel Iran's first atomic power station, upping the stakes in a diplomatic crisis surrounding Tehran's nuclear program.

Russia's state-run nuclear fuel producer said inspectors from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog would later this month start sealing nuclear fuel bound for the Bushehr plant, a major step to shipping the fuel to the Bushehr plant in Iran.

In a report on Iran issued on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had "made arrangements to verify and seal the fresh fuel foreseen (for Bushehr) on November 6, before shipment of the fuel from Russia to Iran".

The inspectors will go to Russia's Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant, which is preparing the fuel. Plant officials said the inspectors would be working there through November 29.

"We are ready to provide IAEA specialists with all the conditions they need to do their work," Konstantin Grabelnikov, deputy head of the Novosibirsk Plant, said in a statement from Russian state-owned nuclear fuel producer TVEL.

Matter of principle

Russia has so far given no concrete date for when it will send the nuclear fuel to Bushehr, but says it would be sent six months before the plant's repeatedly delayed start-up.

According to Russian forecasts, the reactor at the plant could be started up in 2008 and nuclear fuel would have to arrive at the plant six months before that.

Iran's Ambassador to Russia yesterday said nuclear fuel deliveries to the Islamic Republic were a "matter of principle", and hoped Moscow would send them soon.

"We hope that promises we have been receiving from official Russian representatives on such an important issue ... will soon be carried out and realised," Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari said.

The diplomat was speaking at a news conference held simultaneously with Russia's announcement on fuel inspections.

In Iran, nuclear officials welcomed the fuel delivery developments.

"Russia has formally informed (the IAEA) that it is ready for the Bushehr nuclear fuel in Russia to be checked and sealed on November 26," IRNA quoted Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, as saying.

"This means, from a technical and legal point of view, the fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant is ready for transfer to Iran," he said.