Russia builds nuclear power plant for Iran
This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
ELEANOR HALL: While the United States battles to win hearts and minds in Iraq, in neighbouring Iran, Russia is making important diplomatic and economic inroads. Russia is building the Islamic state's first nuclear power plant in a deal worth $800 million and thousands of jobs.
While the work is a big money spinner for Moscow, Russia has been under pressure from the UN's nuclear energy agency, which is unhappy with elements of Iran's nuclear program.
But as Moscow Correspondent Emma Griffiths reports, Russia has vowed to finish the job and provide nuclear power to Iran early next year.
EMMA GRIFFITHS: At his country residence, west of Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the UN's atomic energy chief, Mohamed El Baradei, and vowed to support the agency's work. It's a prestigious, mighty organisation with a very important function, he said.
Its functions at the moment include looking into the nuclear ambitions of one of Russia's commercial partners in the field – Iran. The international atomic energy agency has been investigating Iran's nuclear program for more than a year.
The United States claims Iran is secretly building a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its program is purely for civilian purposes.
Mr El Baradei admits the agency has hit a few "stumbling blocks" in its investigation. It hit another one recently, with Iran's decision to produce parts that can be used to enrich uranium – a key step in making a nuclear bomb.
With that decision, more questions were raised about Iran's plans and Russia's commercial involvement with the Muslim state. It's building Iran's first nuclear power plant near the southern port city of Bushehr.
The United States has previously accused Iran of using the plant as a cover for its nuclear weapons program.
The international atomic energy agency regularly inspects the Bushehr plant and after his meeting with President Putin, Mohamed El Baradei gave the project the all-clear.
MOHAMED EL BARADEI: Bushehr is a bilateral project between the Russian Federation and Iran. Bushehr is not currently at the centre of international concern because Bushehr is a project to produce nuclear energy and agreement that the spent fuel which could be of concern, will be returned back to Russia.
EMMA GRIFFITHS: But there are other links between Russia and Iran fuelling international concerns. In February, nuclear energy agency inspectors found evidence that highly enriched uranium taken from nuclear machinery in Iran had come from Russia – not through official channels but through the black market.
Russia insists its nuclear materials are secure and it's intent on expanding its export business in nuclear power technology.
Industry chief, Alexander Rumyantsev, says Russia will keep an eye on Iran's cooperation with inspectors, but he sees no reason to drop the Bushehr deal.
ALEXANDER RUMYANTSEV (translated): Iran cooperates effectively with the IAEA (international Atomic Energy Agency) by showing transparency and signing an additional protocol on its nuclear program. It has the right to international assistance to develop peaceful nuclear energy.
EMMA GRIFFITHS: Mr Rumyantsev is planning a visit to Tehran in the next couple of months. He's hoping to win another contract for Russia to build Iran's second power station and boost his government's coffers by another several hundred million dollars.
This is Emma Griffiths in Moscow For The World Today.