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Birth of a nuclear power
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 08 - 2010

Ending decades of waiting and underlining Iran's long-standing nuclear ambitions, the opening of the Bushehr reactor is a giant leap forward for the country's nuclear programme, writes Amani Maged
The recent inauguration of the Bushehr nuclear reactor in southern Iran is a landmark development in the country's history, ending four decades of obstacles that have stymied attempts to generate nuclear power at the installation since work on it started in 1974.
At first developed with a German company, the contract was terminated when Germany fell into line with US sanctions against Iran, and it was only two decades later in 1992 that Iran and Russia signed a cooperation agreement for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the construction of a nuclear power plant.
In 1995, a deal was signed to complete the construction of the reactor at Bushehr, and three years later an addendum was signed with the Russian company Atom Story Export giving it the right to complete the reactor.
The final phase for the completion of the entire plant was begun in 1998.
The project has now been completed, despite a backdrop of tense relations between Tehran and Moscow over recent months. While the two capitals enjoy generally close ties, and Moscow's ambitions would not be best served if it lost its ability to play the Iranian card in relations with the US, bickering between the two countries has held up completion of the reactor.
Russia's delivery of fuel to the reactor begins a new phase in Iran's civil nuclear programme, aimed at enabling the country to make use of technology it claims will reduce demand for its otherwise abundant fossil fuels and allow it to export more oil and gas.
Although most nuclear analysts agree that Bushehr does not pose any military threat, many capitals remain concerned because of Iran's uranium enrichment programme.
Although Washington and the West in general have expressed a lack of concern over Bushehr and over Tehran's possession of this new turn-key reactor, they remain distrustful of Iran, which announced its capacity to produce 20 per cent enriched uranium this week.
Some political observers believe that Israel in particular must now accept Iran as a civil nuclear power and admit that threats of military strikes against the country are nothing more than words.
Bushehr is not the only reactor being built in Iran, and another will be completed in March, adding to Iran's complement of reactors.
According to some observers, Iran's statements that it is now able to produce quantities of 20 per cent enriched uranium are unlikely to be true. Such statements, observers say, are likely to be made with the intention of raising the stakes in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
It is more likely that Iran is able to produce 3.5 per cent enriched uranium, which it will continue to do and not abandon enrichment altogether, as has been demanded by the West.
Iran now has a better seat at the negotiating table, since, thanks to Bushehr, it now possesses a better hand.
As one Iranian analyst put it recently, thanks to the success of the Bushehr plant, the West will be forced to sit humbly opposite Iran at the negotiating table.
Nonetheless, Iran has announced a return to dialogue and the creation of a committee with representatives from western countries and the US to oversee Iran's nuclear activities and the peaceful intentions of the country's nuclear programme.
Iran's status in the wake of the inauguration of the Bushehr reactor is linked to factors which were already in place.
The country has become the 33rd member of the world's civil nuclear club, and the first country in the Middle East to possess a nuclear reactor.
This in itself should force the West to view Iran differently, possibly helping Iran to build the ten further reactors it dreams of.


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