Iran claims to arrest spies near nuclear plant


Iran arrested what it claimed were several suspected foreign spies in the southern province of Bushehr, home to the country’s first nuclear power plant.

Fars News Service, the country’s semi-official news agency, reported Tuesday on the arrests but did not provide further details.

Iranian media reported that the country’s intelligence minister, Seyed Mahmoud Alawi, said that the suspects were agents of foreign intelligence services who had been engaged in surveillance and intelligence gathering, the Times of Israel reported.

Alawi said Bushehr province is Iran’s nuclear hub and therefore “has a special position at the national level,” according to Reuters. The Bushehr plant went live in 2011 and is not widely regarded as a proliferation threat as part of the country’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Last month, the Hamshari daily reported that Iranian authorities had arrested a Ukrainian “expert” for suspected sabotage at the plant, according to the Times of Israel. Hamshari reported that the Ukrainian worked with the Russian contractor who helps run the plant.

Quake hits near Iran’s nuclear city Bushehr, 30 dead


A powerful earthquake struck close to Iran's only nuclear power station on Tuesday, killing 30 people and injuring 800 as it devastated small villages, state media reported.

The 6.3 magnitude quake totally destroyed one village, a Red Crescent official told the Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA), but the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant was undamaged, according to a local politician and the Russian company that built it.

“Up until now the earthquake has left behind 30 dead and 800 injured,” said Fereydoun Hassanvand, the governor of Bushehr province, according to ISNA.

Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud brick, which can easily crumble in a quake.

Across the Gulf, offices in Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicenter was 55 miles southeast of the port of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The early afternoon shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai.

Abdulkarim Jomeiri, a member of parliament for Bushehr, told IRNA that “the distance between the earthquake focal point and the Bushehr nuclear power plant was about 80 km and, on the basis of the latest information, there has been no damage to the power plant.”

The Russian company that built the nuclear power station,  11 miles south of Bushehr, said the plant was unaffected.

“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.

One Bushehr resident said her home and the homes of her neighbors were shaken by the quake but not damaged.

“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” said Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “The windows and chandeliers all shook.”

Tuesday's quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant's cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and forced about 160,000 Ukrainians from their homes.

Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.

REPEATED WARNINGS

Tehran has repeatedly rejected safety concerns about Bushehr – built in a highly seismic area – that began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.

Iran sits on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the southeastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people. In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck the north west.

A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said that “ominously” the Bushehr reactor sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates.

“Iran's sole nuclear power plant is not at risk of a tsunami similar in size to the one that knocked out the electricity and emergency cooling systems at Fukushima. But, repeated warnings about the threat of earthquakes for the Bushehr nuclear plant appear to have fallen on deaf ears,” the report said.

The quake happened on National Nuclear Technology Day when Iran's leaders celebrate the technological advances they say will reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels, leaving more of its abundant oil for export.

Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and the Islamic Republic is under international sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb some of its atomic work.

Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and says its atomic work is for electricity generation and other peaceful uses.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Regan Doherty in Doha, Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Hemming

Iran Foreign Minister: Bushehr nuclear power plant ‘successfully launched’


Iran’s nuclear power plant in Bushehr has been put online, Iranian Foreign Minister said on Wednesday, adding that the plant would become fully operational within several weeks.

The plant’s operation was delayed by several months after last year Iranian officials estimated that the Stuxnet virus had hit Bushehr staff computers, adding, however, that the cyber attack did not affect major systems.

When Iran began loading fuel into Bushehr in August, officials said it would take two to three months for the plant to start producing electricity and that it would generate 1,000 megawatts, about 2.5 percent of the country’s power usage.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Report: Iran nuclear plant fully operational within weeks


Iran’s Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant will be fully operational within weeks, local news agencies quoted a senior Russian diplomat as saying on Thursday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov spoke two days after the company that built the plant, a politically charged project that faced repeated delays, said the reactor had begun operating at a low level for tests before bringing it on line.

Ryabkov said that “the final launch of Bushehr is a matter of the coming weeks,” according to state-run news agency RIA, adding “this is a longstanding project and so I would refrain from naming concrete dates—but we are already on the threshold of the final launch of the reactor.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Iran removing nuclear fuel from plant


Iran is removing the nuclear fuel from its Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant.

Iran told atomic inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency last week that the plant had a serious problem, the New York Times reported Feb. 25.

The newly completed nuclear reactor was supposed to soon start generating electricity for the national grid.

“Based on the recommendation of Russia, which is in charge of completing the Bushehr atomic power plant, the fuel inside the reactor core will be taken out for a while to conduct some experiments and technical work,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, told the Iranian ISNA news agency.

Iran had started loading the fuel into the reactor in October.

The nuclear reactor is a joint project with Russia and has cost upward of $1 billion. Progress has been delayed on the plant at least five times in the past 15 years.

Construction of the plant had begun in 1975 under a contract with Germany, which pulled out following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Russia took over the contract in 1992.
Iran is under U.S. and international sanctions because of its nuclear program, which Iran says will be used to produce electricity and which the West believes could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The computer worm Stuxnet, which some say has set back Iran’s nuclear program by several months or years, and which the New York Times reported was a joint project between Israel and the United States, had nothing to do with the problem, Iranian officials have said, according to reports.