Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided it was safe to go ahead and load Iran's first nuclear reactor with fuel on Aug. 21 – effectively making it active – after the Kremlin's weekend announcement of this intent seemed not to trouble the US and Israel, debkafile's sources in Moscow and Tehran report. He decided the two governments had either been caught flatfooted or come to terms with a Russian-sponsored nuclear project that would allow Iran to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The impression Russian officials tried to convey that the reactor would only go on stream in late September was meant to deflect US or Israeli pressure, which in the event was not forthcoming.
Monday, Aug. 16, therefore, Moscow further announced that Sergei Kirienko, the head of the Russian state nuclearcorporation Rosatom, would visit Bushehr Friday, Aug. 20, to see for himself how far the work on the 1,200-1,300 MWe reactor had progressed. He expects to be accompanied by Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko.
Moscow furthermore disclosed it had guaranteed a 10-year supply of reactor fuel for Bushehr.
Then, on Aug. 21, Ali-Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, will join the Russian officials at a press conference to coincide with the transfer of fuel to the Bushehr reactor and mark its effective inauguration. Salehi also announced that Iran would build another 10 installations for enriching uranium inside protected mountain caves – in addition to the three known facilities which brought Iran under UN and Western sanctions.
The announcements from Moscow, our sources say, broadcast due warning to would-be attackers that the Iranian reactor at Bushehr is now under Russia's protection.
Rosatom's spokesman Sergey Novikov commented Monday: "I think it is a very strong signal that international society supports such peaceful projects as Bushehr, because everybody understands that you cannot use a power plant in a hypothetical military program." He went on to say: "A nuclear power plan just generates electricity, There are two double-purpose elements – enrichment and spent fuel management. Both of these elements are taken out of Iranian responsibility, because we are going to supply the Bushehr power plant with nuclear fuel."
Russian and Iranian officials are bending over backwards to assure the world that Bushehr is a harmless and peaceful project for manufacturing electricity, whereas, as debkafile has previously reported and American experts stressed Monday: "Once fueled and operational, Bushehr will produce plutonium 239 which can be used to make nuclear weapons."
They also confirmed the warning by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton (that once the fuel is loaded, Bushehr will be immune from attack because of the risk of spreading radiation) by repeating: "…once it has gone critical, any attempt to do so (attack the reactor) would risk the release of a radioactive plume that might kill civilians and poison surrounding areas."
Bolton gave Israel and the US less than a week – that is until Aug. 21 – to put the reactor out of commission before it was too late.
The American experts also stressed that, even if – and that is a big "if" – Iran does not at present have the right equipment for separating plutonium from fuel before the spent rods are shipped back to their Russian suppliers – as Moscow claims is part of the deal – possession of a large, functioning nuclear reactor will give Tehran extra impetus to lay hands on the necessary equipment and technology.
The apathy in Washington and Jerusalem greeting the Bushehr reactor going on stream stands in sharp contrast to the cooperation between them in September 2007 for Israel to bomb the Syrian reactor built by North Korean before it was completed. Its purpose was precisely the same as that of the Bushehr plant, albeit using different technology, namely to provide Iran's military nuclear program with plutonium fuel.
In the case of Bushehr, this will be the first time Israel has stood by for a Middle East nation to get close to producing a nuclear weapon without taking action – even through its leaders openly avow their intention of wiping it off the map.