Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP)

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Last Modified: Dec. 6, 2013
Other Name: Bushehr-1 and Bushehr-2
Location: Halileh, 12km south of Bushehr
Subordinate To: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI)
Size: VVER 1000 MWe
Facility Status: Operational as of July 2013

The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is Iran's first commercial nuclear reactor. In 1994, Tehran and Moscow signed an agreement to construct the VVER 1000MWe light-water reactor, and construction started the same year. [1]

Iran had previously attempted to build a nuclear power plant at the Bushehr site, and in 1974 contracted the German company Siemens (then KraftWerk) to build two reactors. The first unit was approaching completion when Iran halted the project as a result of the 1979 Iranian revolution. [2] During the Iran-Iraq war, the reactors sustained severe damage in an Iraqi bombing raid. [3] After the war Siemens refused to continue with construction in the face of extreme diplomatic pressure from the United States.

The Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is unique in design because Russia agreed to incorporate its VVER technology into the original German-built infrastructure. [4] In a series of shipments between December 2007 and January 2008, Iran received a total of 82 tons of fuel from Russia for the initial fuel loading of the BNPP. [5] The IAEA has arranged to verify and seal the fresh fuel shipments, and all of the fuel assemblies imported from Russia for use at the Bushehr plant remained under Agency seal before being loaded into the reactor. [6] Iran is required to return spent fuel rods from Bushehr to Russia as soon as they are safe for transport. [7] Indicating that the plant was nearing completion, engineers conducted a series of pre-start tests in 2009 and 2010. [8]

Loading of fuel into the reactor core was finished in November 2010. [9] However, in February 2011 Iran informed the IAEA that the fuel would have to be removed. [10] A broken pump had caused small metal particles to infiltrate the reactor's cooling system, and it was feared that the particles might have made their way into the fuel assemblies. [11] It was speculated that the Stuxnet computer virus had caused damage to the facility. [12] In April 2011, the fuel was reloaded into the reactor. [13] The following month, the Bushehr plant began operating at low levels. [14] On 11 February 2012 the plant was connected to the national grid, generating 700 megawatts of electricity. That same month, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani announced that the plant would operate at full capacity starting in late March 2012. [15]

In 2013, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit the southwest region of Iran, where Bushehr is located.[16] Given that much of Iran is in a seismic zone, many expressed concerns over BNPP's safety following the earthquake. For example, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia voiced concerns at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June 2013.[17] Iran denied allegations concerning the plant's safety "vulnerability."[18] Simultaneously, Iran reported an electric generator malfunction and "long cracks […] in at least one section of the structure." However, Tehran dismissed the suggestion that the malfunction was connected to the earthquake.[19] The IAEA's May 2013 report indicated that the reactor was shut down during its inspections on 11 and 12 May 2013.[20] IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano later stated that the IAEA had no information regarding the causes of the plant's shutdown. The IAEA’s 12 August 2013 inspection of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant indicated that the reactor is operating at 100% of its nominal power.[21]

On 24 November 2013, the P5+1 talks in Geneva resulted in a Joint Plan of Action. The Plan is described as the first step toward ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. The agreement outlines voluntary steps that Iran must fulfill within a six month period, in return the P5 have agreed to temporarily ease economic sanctions targeting the Iranian nuclear program. During this time period, The IAEA will have 24 hour access to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant for inspections.[22]  

[1] "Nuclear Energy in Iran," World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org.
[2] "Nuclear Energy in Iran," World Nuclear Association, www.world-nuclear.org.
[3] Robert Tait, "Iran Makes First Test-Run of Bushehr Nuclear Reactor," The Guardian, 25 January 2009, www.guardian.co.uk.
[4] "Bushehr Enclosure Leak-Tested," 16 February 2010, World Nuclear News, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[5] "Iran receives final shipment of fuel for Bushehr," 28 January 2008, World Nuclear News, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[6] "Iran receives final shipment of fuel for Bushehr," 28 January 2008, World Nuclear News, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[7] "Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant," Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), www.isisnucleariran.org.
[8] "Iranian Reactor Completes Latest Pre-Start Tests," 12 January 2010, World Nuclear News, www.world-nuclear-news.org.
[9] "Iran completes fueling Bushehr reactor," PressTV, 1 December, 2010, www.presstv.ir.
[10] "Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded," BBC, 26 February 2011, www.bbc.co.uk.
[11] William J. Broad, "Russians Say Damaged Cooling Pump Is Cause of Delay in Starting Iranian Reactor," The New York Times, 28 February 2011.
[12] "Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded," BBC, 26 February 2011, www.bbc.co.uk.
[13] Ali Akbar Dareini, "Russia: Fuel Loading Resumes at Bushehr," The Associated Press, 8 April 2011.
[14] "Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant begins operation," BBC, 10 May 2011, www.bbc.co.uk.
[15] Ladane Nasseri, "Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Plant to Work at Full Capacity, IRNA Says,"Bloomberg, 26 February 2012.
[16] "Deadly quake in south-west Iran's Bushehr province," BBC, 10 April 2013, www.bbc.co.uk.
[17] "Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors worried about Bushehr reactor," AlArabiya, 6 June 2013, www.alarabiya.net.
[18] "Iran dismisses hype on Bushehr plant's 'vulnerability,'" PressTV, 10 June 2013, www.presstv.ir.
[19] "Iranian ambassador: Russia-built Bushehr nuclear plant suffered electric generator malfunction," Washington Post, 10 June 2013, www.washingtonpost.com.
[20] International Atomic Agency Organization, "Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolution in the Islamic Republic of Iran," Report by the Director General, 22 May 2013, www.iaea.org.
[21] International Atomic Energy Agency, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” GOV/2013/56, 14 November 2013.
[22] “Iran Nuclear Deal: Joint Plan of Action-Full Document,” via: The Guardian, 24 November 2013, www.theguardian.com.

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