Russia dismisses Tehran claims that Iran's first nuclear plant start on schedule
MOSCOW: Russian officials on Wednesday dismissed claims by Tehran that Iran's first nuclear plant being built by Russia could be started on schedule this year, saying that slow Iranian payments had made it impossible.
Irina Yesipova, a spokeswoman for the Russian company Atomstroixport, which is building the plant in Iran's southern port of Bushehr, shrugged off the Iranian officials' claims that it would be ready for a planned startup in September as "sheer nonsense."
"Iranian payments have been clearly insufficient to complete the project," Yesipova said. She said it was impossible to say now how long it would take to complete the plant's construction.
Grigory Noginsky, head of the nuclear energy committee in the upper house of the Russia Parliament, said the Iranian payment delays had pushed construction back by at least one year.
"I think that the launch will be possible in reality no earlier than in summer-fall 2008," the Interfax news agency quoted Noginsky as saying.
And Ivan Istomin, head of Energoprogress, a subcontractor for Atomstroiexport, also said the plant could not be launched before the fall of 2008, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
"Our subcontractors have lost faith in the Bushehr project because of the Iranian actions," Yesipova said.
Iranian officials denied any payment delays under the $1 billion contract, and accused Russia of caving in to Western pressure. Tehran has been particularly vexed by Moscow's refusal to ship uranium fuel for the plant.
While Russia has continued to oppose a U.S. push for tougher sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, Russian officials have shown growing irritation with Iran's refusal to freeze its enrichment effort.
Enriched to a low degree, uranium is used as a reactor fuel, but a higher degree creates material that can be used for nuclear warheads. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a charge that Tehran denies.