TEHRAN, Iran — Technicians have finished loading fuel into Iran's first nuclear power reactor and aim to start up the facility by late January, the country's nuclear chief said Saturday.
The startup of the Bushehr power plant, a project completed with Russian help but beset by years of delays, will deliver Iran the central stated goal of its atomic work — the generation of electricity.
The United States and some of its allies, however, believe the Bushehr plant is part of a civil energy program that Iran is using as cover for a secret aim to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies the accusation.
Nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said it will take another month or two before the 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor at Bushehr begins pumping electricity to Iranian cities, and he again denied that a destructive computer worm known as Stuxnet has set back Iran's nuclear work.
"We sealed the lid of the reactor without any propaganda and fuss," Salehi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. "All fuel assemblies have been loaded into the core of the reactor."
The Bushehr plant itself is not among the West's concerns because safeguards are in place to ensure that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia and cannot be diverted to weapons making.
Other facilities on Iran's nuclear map are of much deeper international concern, namely the underground uranium enrichment facility in the central city of Natanz. Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to the safe, lower levels needed for making fuel for power stations like Bushehr.
But the technology offers Iran a potential pathway to weapons production, should it chose to enrich uranium to higher, weapons-grade levels.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment.