By George Whitten, BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife) — In a move raising eyebrows from Jerusalem to Washington, Russian and Iranian officials began a test run of Iran’s first Nuclear plant, BosNewsLife established Thursday, February 26.
The Bushehr Nuclear Plant was switched on and its computer systems were tested as non-nuclear fuel rods were loaded into the reactor, officials said.
Israel, the United States and the European Union have expressed concern about the situation, saying Iran may attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its program is designed for “peaceful purposes.”
Iran said its 1,000-megawatt light-water reactor, is nearing completion, however an exact date has not been announced when the reactor would become fully operational.
The tests that began 10 days ago could take “between four and seven months”, confirmed Gholam-Reza Agahezeh, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
“I hope that the pre-commissioning of this power plant will pave the way for increasing its capacity to 1000 megawatts,” he added. “Iran and Russia have been working in close cooperation, particularly over the past few months to complete the nuclear plant and the project has been proceeding at a fast pace.”
Russia was commissioned by Iran to build the plant in Bushehr under a $1 billion contract originally scheduled to become fully operational in March 2007. However, the plant has long faced delays.
The U.S. and Israel were reportedly responsible for the postponements, with reports that agents were involved in a covert plan of equipment sabotage, specialized computers sold to Iran that contain viruses, the assassination of key nuclear personnel, as well as sanctions levied against the Iranian government.
Despite the tactic, the Bushehr reactor development continued, and experts warned it could produce a quarter ton of weapons grade plutonium per year. Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute said that would be enough for at least 30 atomic bombs a year.
Israel said it was concerned about this situation as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have long stated their desire for the destruction of the state of Israel.
“Israel’s policy is clear: We are not ruling out any option regarding the Iranian nuclear [program] and we recommend that others don’t rule out any option either,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
“Time is running out. Clear and decisive sanctions against the Iranian regime, alongside readiness to consider necessary actions in case the sanctions don’t work, are necessary,” he added, suggesting possible military action.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, “Iranians are showing again that they are making progress in their nuclear race, and added that this should “be understood as very bad news for the whole of the international community.”
He called for “immediate and very determined steps in order to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.”
Last week, Israel’s incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel needed to deal with the existential threats facing Israel from Iran. He said, “Iran is developing nuclear weapons and poses the greatest threat to our existence since the War of Independence. Iran’s terror wings surround us from the north and south.”
Meanwhile, Iran announced that it would increase their capacity to enrich uranium at its other, Natanz plant, by increasing the now 6,000 centrifuges to 50,000 over the next five years.
“We have 6,000 working centrifuges at present and we are planning to increase their number next year,” said Aghazadeh. Over the next five years, he said Iran “envisions the installation of 50,000 centrifuges.”
He said, “It is time for the West and the U.S. to acknowledge and accept the fact that Iran is a nuclear power. Even if they refuse to do so, Iran will remain a nuclear power.”
Western officials are becoming increasingly concerned over Iran’s achievements. In the past month, Iran already successfully launched a satellite into outer space and also announced the development of a more efficient centrifuge which speeds the enrichment process turning uranium into weapons-grade nuclear material.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency admitted it underestimated Iran’s nuclear stockpile by a third. The IAEA confirmed that Iran possesses enough nuclear material to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran is presently in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, Israeli and U.S. officials say. The council has already passed three sets of sanctions against Iran over uranium enrichment and is considering further action. However, Teheran claims its exercising its right to civilian nuclear energy, as permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and compassionate professionals).