Tehran, Feb 26 (AFP) Iran today said it is removingthe fuel from the reactor of a Russian-built nuclear powerplant, a move seen as a big blow to its controversial nuclearprogramme.
The decision to remove the fuel from the reactor ofthe nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr comes justmonths before the facility -- which has seen a roller-coasterride since its construction began in the 1970s -- wasscheduled to generate electricity.
"Based on the recommendation of Russia, which is incharge of completing the Bushehr atomic power plant, the fuelinside the reactor core will be taken out for a while toconduct some experiments and technical work," Iran''s envoy tothe UN atomic watchdog, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the ISNAnews agency.
"After the experiments, it will again be installed inthe core of the reactor." He did not specify when theexperiments would be completed.
Iran had started loading the fuel into the reactor inOctober after the "physical launch" of the plant by Moscow onAugust 21.
In January, Iran''s former atomic chief Ali AkbarSalehi said the plant would be ready to generate electricityon April 9 after operations began in November.
The decision to remove the fuel rods, also supplied byRussia, is the latest setback in the more than three-decadeold history of the plant, which was first launched by theUS-backed shah using contractors from German company Siemens.
But it was shelved when the shah was ousted in theIslamic revolution of 1979 and it lay unfinished through the1980s as Iran battled internal opposition and a devastatingeight-year war with Iraq.
It was revived in the late 1980s after current supremeleader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei succeeded revolutionary leaderAyatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
In the early 1990s, Iran sought help for the projectafter being turned away by Siemens over nuclear proliferationconcerns.
In 1994, Russia agreed to complete the plant andprovide the fuel, with the supply deal committing Iran toreturning the spent fuel. A deal was finally signed in January1995 after 18 months of negotiations and preliminary accords.