Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 6

A top Russian government official announced over the weekend that Moscow intends to step up its work at the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov told reporters on January 10 that Russia would send additional personnel to Iran this year to augment the approximately 1,000 Russian specialists already working there on the project. Adamov said that the plant’s first unit was between 30 and 40 percent complete, and that Russia had earned some US$100 million from its efforts this year.

Adamov also suggested that Moscow would forge ahead with negotiations on a new contract to build a second reactor–also at the Bushehr site. He said that the Russian side is seeking under the new contract to build the second reactor entirely on its own and to equip it exclusively with Russian technology (Reuters, January 9; Russian agencies, January 10).

Adamov’s remarks on January 10 are a follow-up, presumably, to a memorandum of understanding Russia and Iran signed on November 24 during the Russian atomic energy chief’s visit to Tehran. In addition to calling for an acceleration of construction at Bushehr, the accord created a joint Russian-Iranian committee tasked with studying the feasibility of additional nuclear projects for Russia in Iran. Those projects include a possible second reactor at the Bushehr site (AP, Russian agencies, Xinhua, November 24, 1998).

While both Moscow and Tehran have hailed the Bushehr deal, evidence of some friction between the two sides over the construction effort has emerged. The Iranian side has reportedly complained that construction is moving too slowly. The Russians have shown some frustration over what they say is Iran’s insistence that Russian specialists integrate Russian technology at the plant with the German equipment already installed at the site. The German company Siemens originally undertook construction of the facility in 1975, but suspended construction in 1980 as hostilities between Iran and Iraq began (see the Monitor, November 25, 1998).

Adamov’s January 10 remarks were a slap in the face to Washington, which last month stepped up its already strenuous efforts to halt–or at least limit–Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran. The United States believes that the Bushehr project is contributing to Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. Washington has asked Moscow at the very least to limit its nuclear activities in Iran to the one reactor currently under construction at Bushehr (see the Monitor, December 10 and 17, 1998). On December 16 the Clinton administration warned that it would impose fresh sanctions and curb expansion of lucrative Russian-U.S. space launch contracts if Moscow does not halt its nuclear–and missile–cooperation with Iran.