Iran begins pouring concrete for second nuclear power reactor

BUSHEHR, Iran (AP) – Iran began pouring concrete yesterday for a second nuclear reactor at its Bushehr power plant, a facility Tehran points to as its reason to break the enrichment limit set by its unravelling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

While celebrating the start of construction, the politics of the moment weren’t lost on Iranian officials as a United States (US) pressure campaign of sanctions blocks Tehran from selling its crude oil abroad.

Those sanctions took effect after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018, lighting the fuse for the current tensions now gripping the wider Mideast.

“It was not us who started breaking commitments, it was them who did not keep to their commitments and cannot accept the nuclear deal as a one-way roadmap,” said Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi.

Bushehr is fuelled by uranium produced in Russia, not Iran, and is monitored by the United Nations’ (UN) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, Iran began 4.5 per cent enrichment in part to supply Bushehr despite the deal limiting it to 3.67 per cent.

Photo by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows concrete being poured for the base of the second nuclear power reactor at Bushehr plant, some 700 kilometres south of the capital Tehran, Iran yesterday. PHOTO: AP

While that’s still nowhere near weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent, non-proliferation experts warn Iran’s growing stockpile and increasing enrichment will begin to shave off time from the estimated year Tehran would need to gather enough material for an atomic bomb. Iran long has maintained its programme is for peaceful purposes, though the deal was designed to limit its enrichment programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Those limits blocked its path to being able to have enough material for a bomb.

Yesterday, trucks with spinning concrete mixers poured their slurry into the prepared base of the second reactor as journalists watched in Bushehr, some 700 kilometres south from Iran’s capital, Tehran. Bushehr’s working reactor stood behind it.

Officials said the new reactor, and a third planned to be built, will each add over 1,000 megawatts to Iran’s power grid. It is being built with the help of Russia, which helped finally put Bushehr’s first reactor online in 2011 after decades of delays.

Salehi, speaking to reporters, praised the plant’s operations.

“The security of this power plant has been provided by the armed forces and its safety has been endorsed by international institutions,” he said.

Salehi also offered Iran’s help to neighbouring Arab nations, noting the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) nuclear power plant in Barakah had seen years of delays.

Meanwhile yesterday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected claims by the US and Israel over allegations of nuclear material being discovered at an undeclared site outside of Tehran.