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former IAEA Director-General

Russia, Iran Finalize Spent Fuel Agreement
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Christine Kucia

Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev concluded but did not sign an agreement with Iranian officials in late December stipulating that Russia will import the spent nuclear fuel generated over the next 10 years by Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Russia agreed in 1995 to help Iran construct the reactor and to provide the required nuclear fuel, drawing opposition from the United States, which believes Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons. Russia promised the United States that it would import and reprocess spent fuel from the reactor, rather than leave it in Iran, in order to decrease proliferation concerns. But the provisions for returning the spent fuel to Russia have never been formally finalized, and Russia has refused to send nuclear fuel to Iran until they are.

Rumyantsev was expected to sign the agreement December 25 at the conclusion of a visit to Iran, according to a December 16 report by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s official news service. Speaking to reporters December 27 in Moscow, Rumyantsev said that other Russian ministries and agencies must first review and approve the accord, but he said, “We hope that such an additional agreement will be signed with Iran within a month.”

Meanwhile, Moscow remains engaged with Tehran in discussions on building as many as six other reactors in Iran. A joint study on whether to construct a second reactor at Bushehr will commence “in the next few months,” Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said at a December 25 press briefing. Rumyantsev indicated at the same briefing that proposals Russia made in July 2002 for constructing reactors at other sites in Iran were already being discussed with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials. (See ACT, September 2002.)

Addressing Washington’s vehement objections to Russia’s cooperation with Iran, Rumyantsev stressed in a press conference December 27, “Our cooperation is in full accordance with all the international commitments of the countries which possess nuclear technologies.” He added, “Before making a decision on building the second unit it is necessary to additionally discuss technical and economic issues.”

Iran is a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the Bushehr reactor will be subject to inspections by the IAEA. When operational, the unit will produce around 1,000 megawatts of electricity for Iran. IRNA reported December 25 that during Rumyantsev’s visit Russia and Iran had agreed to expedite work on the Bushehr reactor, which has fallen behind schedule. It is slated to be operational by the end of 2003.

Posted: January 1, 2003