New setback at Iran’s Bushehr plant

The marathon attempt to complete Iran’s sole nuclear reactor in Bushehr has suffered yet another delay amid conflicting reports on the actual causes. The Stuxnet cyber-attack is blamed by some, even though Tehran insists the holdup is due to a Russian request to unload nuclear fuel from the plant’s core as a precautionary safety measure.

After uploading fuel at the Russia-made power plant last October with much fanfare, expectations were high in Iran that the plant would start producing electricity within a couple of months; Iran’s

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said earlier this month that it would join the national grid in April, 2011. The additional safety tests could result in a delay of about six months.

“The reactor cap in the Bushehr plant has been shut and everything is ready to produce electricity in the near future,” Salehi said in early February. A new report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on February 25 mentions the fuel-unloading at Bushehr without addressing the causes.

The length of the new delay will highlight the scope of a problem that could tarnish Iran-Russia relations if Moscow fails to fix it and open the plant, which is now 12 years behind schedule.

Another lengthy delay is bound to exact political prices for Tehran, which is primed for further sanctions in light of the new IAEA report that, while confirming the absence of any diversion of declared nuclear material, c…

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