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Iran MP: Nuclear plant's launch delayed again

An Iranian lawmaker said the country's first nuclear power plant will not start up by late August as planned and blamed the delay on Russia, which is building the facility, local media reported Monday.

The disclosure by Asgar Jalalian, a member of a special parliamentary committee on the Bushehr nuclear plant, reflects the continued the difficulties Iran has faced in moving forward with its controversial nuclear program.

The 1,000 megawatt plant being built in the southern port city of Bushehr has experienced repeated delays that come on top of the unyielding pressure Tehran faces from the United States and its allies, who are convinced the program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful uses like power generation.

The plant is being built by Russia's Rosatom, and was to be finished by 1999, four years after construction of the $1 billion facility began.

Jalalian, in comments carried by the reformist daily Aftab, blamed the his country's Russian partner for the latest delays. He said the committee on which he serves has determined that the late August start-up deadline will be missed and that they had handed over a report dealing with the issue to the parliament.

"We believe the Russians are not being honest ... about the plant," Jalalian said. He urged Iranian officials to clarify the terms of the deal through "transparent and firm talks, without any 'buts' or 'ifs'."

Jalalian said Iran had already paid at least twice more than the planned construction costs on the project, and additional funds are being demanded.

The contracts with the Russians have no "clear financial ceiling, timetable and end date," he said, also claiming that the Russian partner had reneged on a promise to transfer technology to Iran, as promised in the deal.

Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov said the company had no comment.

It was unclear when the full parliament would review the committee's report on the delay or what steps they might take. But the report is the first issued at such a high level to be circulated among Iranian officials.

The Bushehr project dates back to 1974, when Iran's U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi contracted with the German company Siemens to build the reactor. The company withdrew from the project after the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought hard-line clerics to power.

In 1992, Iran signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to complete the project and work began in 1995. Since then, the project has been beset by problems linked to construction and supply glitches.

Iranian officials have acknowledged that a malicious computer worm infected laptops belonging to Bushehr employees last year, but denied that the Stuxnet worm had affected the facility. Tehran later blamed the U.S. and Israel of being behind the malicious software, saying it was part of a covert plan by Iran's enemies to sabotage its nuclear program which it claims is intended for peaceful purposes only.

Western nations have imposed sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment program, targeting in particular

Russia had already delivered 90 tons (82 metric tons) of fuel for the reactor in eight shipments in 2007 and 2008. That amount is enough for a one-year of operations in Bushehr's light-water reactor.

But in February, Russia ordered that fuel be removed because of concerns that metal particles might be contaminating fuel assemblies. Reloading began in April.

The delays at Bushehr have hurt relations with Moscow and prompted Iranian officials to describe Russia as an "unreliable partner."