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On Saturday, after thirty-six years of on-and-off development, Iran’s nuclear power plant at Bushehr finally went online. Iranian and Russian engineers loaded its first dose of Russian-supplied nuclear fuel. The plant is supposed to start producing electricity in another two months.
Iranian officials were jubilant. Conservative lawmaker Javad Karimi said Friday that “The startup operations will be a big success for Iran. It also shows Iran’s resolve and capability in pursuing its nuclear activities.” Hard-line leader Hamid Reza Taraqi said the launch would “show the failure of all sanctions” against Iran.
Used fuel from the reactor could be used to make atom bombs. Russia, however, has avowed that it will remove all the used fuel and transfer it to Russia for reprocessing. Many in the West, including Israel, are reassured by this.
Yossi Melman, an Israeli author and journalist on security issues, writes that “experts and military officials in Israel, the United States and Western Europe say the prospect the reactor will be used in Iran’s military nuclear program is extremely small.” Ephraim Asculai of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies claimed that “even if the Iranians wanted to use that waste to develop a weapon, it won’t be simple to deceive the Russians.”
Asculai explained: “Even when the fuel is outside the reactor, you need a big separation plant. It’s a long, complicated and dirty chemical activity, and at the moment there are no signs that Iran is building such a plant.”
The Jerusalem Post, however, was less confident, saying “it is not entirely clear to what extent the large quantities of [used fuel] set to be produced can be tracked. Nor is it clear that Russia can be trusted to dispose of that spent fuel. And what happens if Iran cuts ties with Russia in the middle of the deal and remains in possession of the fissile material?”
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