IRAN said yesterday that it will begin operation of the country's first nuclear power plant in the summer of 2008 using half its 1,000 megawatt capacity, the official news agency IRNA reported.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Russians, who are helping build the light-water reactor in the southern Iranian town of Bushehr, will have completed nuclear fuel shipments by the summer, paving the way for its launch.
"Half of the capacity of the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be launched in the summer of the coming year," IRNA quoted Mottaki as saying.
After months of delay, Russia began shipping nuclear fuel to Bushehr in mid-December and completed its second delivery on Friday. The Iranians have said Russia will send a total of 82 tons of nuclear fuel in eight shipments.
The process was held up by Russian claims that Iran had delayed construction payments for the reactor, but many observers suggested Moscow was also unhappy with Tehran's unwillingness to assure the international community that it was not developing nuclear arms.
Tehran heralded the initial shipment as a victory, saying it proved its nuclear program was peaceful, not a cover for weapons development as claimed by the US and some of its allies.
The US initially opposed Russian participation in building the Bushehr reactor and supplying it with fuel but reversed its position about a year ago to obtain Moscow's support for the first set of UN sanctions against Iran.
Washington also was influenced by Iran's agreement to return spent nuclear fuel from the reactor back to Russia to ensure it doesn't extract plutonium to make atomic bombs.
Russia's decision to begin shipping nuclear fuel to Iran followed a US intelligence report released earlier this month that concluded Tehran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it since. Iran says it never had a weapons program.