Russian source nuclear fuel for Iran not yet ready

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MOSCOW, Sep 16 (Reuters) A source in Russia's nuclear sector today denied a statement from Iran's foreign minister that nuclear fuel for Iran's first nuclear power plant was ready for transporting as it had not yet been sealed.

''The procedure for sealing the nuclear fuel by international experts, an important step for preparing its transport to the Bushehr plant, has not taken place,'' the source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

The source said the fuel for Bushehr is currently being stored at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrate Plant in Siberia.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference in Tehran yesterday that the fuel for Bushehr was ready and it had been inspected and sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's) inspectors.

Mottaki said Russia was moving ahead to resolve a dispute that has delayed the start-up of the Bushehr plant, which is being built by Russian companies and will be powered with Russian nuclear fuel.

Russia has repeatedly put back the start-up date for the plant, citing delays in payments from Tehran. Iranian officials deny there are any payment problems.

Many observers say Russia is stalling because it does not fully trust Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and fears an international backlash if it delivers nuclear fuel to Bushehr.

According to current Russian forecasts, the reactor at the plant could be started up in 2008. Nuclear fuel would have to arrive at the plant six months before the reactor could be started up, Russian officials say.

Mottaki said yesterday that Ahmadinejad and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, had discussed the issue in a recent telephone conversation, although he did not say when.

The United States and some European countries believe Iran is using its atomic energy programme as a cover to try to build a nuclear weapon.

Tehran says it only wants nuclear technology for civilian uses.

Russia says Bushehr poses no threat of Iran acquiring sensitive technology.

REUTERS SYU PM1940

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