BUSHEHR, Iran – Iran began fuelling its first nuclear power plant on Saturday after decades of delay and amid international fears it is seeking an atomic bomb and not just electricity.

State television showed live pictures of Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi and his Russian counterpart looking on at what appeared to be a fuel rod suspended from the ceiling.

“The beginning of the first stage of the physical start-up has taken place,” said Sergei Novikov, spokesman for Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

Russia has built and supplied the fuel for the Bushehr plant, work on which was initially started by German company Siemens in the 1970s, before Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Iranian officials say it will take two to three months before the plant starts producing electricity once the uranium-packed fuel rods are moved into the reactor.

Experts say firing up the $1-billion plant will not take Iran any closer to building a nuclear bomb since Russia will supply the enriched uranium for the reactor and take away spent fuel which could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran remains under intense international pressure to stop uranium enrichment, something the West says it no longer needs to do as it can acquire nuclear fuel from abroad.

Tehran’s refusal to cease enrichment has resulted in a series of U.N. sanctions and tougher unilateral measures by the United States, the European Union and elsewhere.

Iran insists it is not seeking a bomb and says it has a sovereign right to nuclear technology and uranium enrichment.

The fuelling of Bushehr is a milestone in Iran’s path to harness technology which it says will reduce consumption of its abundant fossil fuels, allowing it to export more oil and gas and to prepare for the day when the minerals riches dry up.


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