Iran begins fuelling its first nuclear reactor
Tehran: Iran on Tuesday began fuelling the reactor core of its Russian-built nuclear power plant as it said the content, date and venue of new talks on its atomic programme with the big powers have yet to be agreed.
"Today, the plant is going through the sensitive phase of loading fuel in the core... we hope that the electricity produced by the Bushehr nuclear plant will be connected to the national grid in three months' time," state television reported atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.
The transfer of fuel into the facility began on August 21 in a process that was described as the "physical launch" of the power plant by Russia which took over construction of the complex in the mid 1990s.
Rich in both oil and gas, the Islamic republic says it needs the plant, which had been under construction from the 1970s before being completed by Russia, to meet a growing demand for electricity.
Tuesday's announcement that fuel was being loaded into the core takes Iran a step closer to putting its first nuclear power plant on stream.
Moscow has supplied 82 tonnes of fuel for Bushehr and also plans to reprocess the spent material.
German contractors from Siemens began work on the Bushehr plant in the 1970s under the rule of the US-backed shah, but the project was shelved when the shah was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
It was revived a decade later under current supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and in 1994, Russia agreed to complete its construction.
Tehran, at loggerheads with the West over its controversial nuclear drive, also said on Tuesday that the content, date and venue of mooted new talks with six major powers on its nuclear programme have yet to be finalised.
"Discussions are under way about the date of the negotiations, the venue and content of the negotiations," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at his weekly news conference.
"Both sides should agree on this and the other side (the major powers) must show flexibility."
He was speaking after European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton proposed on Friday that the negotiations be held in Vienna from November 15 to 17.
But Mehmanparast said the two sides needed to agree on an agenda for the talks first.
"While we do need to come to a conclusion on the date and place for the talks, the content of the negotiations should also be agreed by the two sides," he said.
Iran has always insisted that the talks be held on the basis of a package of proposals it gave the major powers before the last round of talks in October last year. The package does not explicitly talk of its atomic programme.
In a letter to Iran on Friday, Ashton insisted that the "main focus" of the talks would be the "question of the Iranian nuclear programme," which Western governments suspect is aimed at developing a weapons capability, an ambition Tehran strongly denies.
Ashton represents the six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- in the negotiations with Iran.
Iranian officials including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have broadly welcomed fresh talks, but a spokesman for Ashton said on Friday she was still waiting for Tehran's formal response.
Ahmadinejad and several lawmakers have laid down three conditions which they say the major powers must answer during the negotiations.
Lawmakers say these were outlined to Ashton in a July letter by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
He told Ashton the world powers must say whether the talks are aimed at "engagement and cooperation or continued confrontation and hostility towards Iranians".
"Will you be committed to the logic of talks which calls for avoiding threats and pressure?" he asked, while also urging the six powers to state their "clear view" on the "Zionist regime's nuclear arsenal".
Israel, which has not ruled out taking military action against Iran over its nuclear programme, is widely believed to have the Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Iran is under four sets of United Nations sanctions for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, the sensitive process which can be used to make nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.