Tremors, as nuke fuel arrives in Iran

Well, that was quick.

Russia on Monday delivered the last batch of nuclear fuel for Iran’s light-water reactor in the southern city of Bushehr. That’s a little over a month after the first batch arrived.

The West worries that spent fuel from the 1,000 megawatt reactor could be reprocessed to make fissile material for a bomb and that the nuclear plant is a reward Iran doesn’t deserve. They fear such deals undermine efforts to pressure Iran to give up its drive to master nuclear enrichment, a process that is the trickiest part of building your own atomic weapons.

But there are other worries about the plant, too. Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. Mother Nature put a big exclamation point on that fact on Monday when a mild earthquake struck close to Bushehr. There were no reports of casualties or property damage from the tremor, which measured 4.2 on the Richter scale.

But the combination of antiquated Russian technology (remember Chernobyl) resting on teetering tectonic plates operated by newly trained Iranian engineers makes a lot of people nervous, especially in the oil-rich Persian Gulf city-states near Bushehr. As analysts and politicians in the Gulf like to point out, Iran’s first experiment in nuclear power is located 750 miles from Tehran but less than 200 from the capitals of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar

The next milestone is to get the plant up and running. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and others have boasted that the plant start producing power sometime in the middle of this year. Russians say it’ll be more like end of the year. Russian officials told Itar-Tass news agency that they’re going to try get the reactor up and running as soon as possible. Sergei Kirienko, head of the Russian Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, said they’ll begin loading the fuel into the reactor this summer:

Russia’s stand is the quicker the better, since the station has a high degree of readiness…We shall do our utmost to complete this work as soon as possible.

Russia had been stalling for years on sending the 82 tons of fuel rods for the plant. But deliveries began just days after a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in December concluded that Iran had likely ended a secret atomic weapons program in 2003. Russia insists the timing was coincidental, Tehran and Moscow agreed to finish the deal in October.