MOSCOW, September 22 (RIA Novosti) - Iran's first nuclear power plant is 96% complete, and final testing will begin in the near future, the state IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
Iranian Vice-President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the country's Atomic Energy Organization, said almost all of the equipment for the Bushehr plant in the country's south has been installed, and that after testing the plant will go into full operation. He did not give an exact start date.
"The most important testing will soon begin at the plant, when the pressure will be raised to 250 atmospheres to detect any faults," IRNA quoted Salehi as saying.
The construction of the Bushehr plant was started in 1975 by German companies. However, the firms stopped their work after a U.S. embargo was imposed on high technology supplies to Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent U.S. embassy siege in Tehran.
Russia signed a contract with Iran to complete the plant in February 1998, originally due for completion at the end of 2006. The date was postponed several times over financial problems and claims Russia was reluctant to finish the facility amid UN sanctions and suspicions of a covert nuclear weapons program.
Russia's Atomstroiexport in January completed deliveries of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr plant. As a rule, nuclear fuel is delivered to a nuclear power plant six months before it goes into operation.
Earlier on Tuesday, Salehi said Iranian specialists were "increasing the size" and number of new centrifuges at the uranium enriching facility in Natanz.
"Iranian scientists have made new-generation centrifuges that are currently undergoing necessary tests," IRNA quoted Salehi as saying.
According to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the end of August, the Islamic Republic increased the number of centrifuges at Natanz plant to 8,300 from 7,000 reported in June.
Iranian authorities have said the country needs 50,000 centrifuges in order to supply low-enriched uranium for its future nuclear power plants.
Iran has been under international pressure to halt uranium enrichment, used in both electricity generation and weapons production. Tehran has repeatedly rejected the demand, insisting it is pursuing a purely civilian program. Several Western powers have called for harsher sanctions against Tehran if it does not agree to halt uranium enrichment.
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Any response would likely boomerang on Russia – the partnership between Rosneft and ExxonMobil is a case in point. The United States has hit Russia with a third round of sanctions. This time the Americans went with a higher caliber weapon, targeting Russia’s biggest energy companies (Rosneft and Novatek) and banks (VEB and Gazprombank).