AP Exclusive: Iran sticks to building nuke plants

The leaders of earthquake-prone Iran have reviewed — and rejected — concerns by the country's top scientists about a plan to build a national nuclear reactor network, according to intelligence shared with The Associated Press.

An official from a member nation of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency says the Iranian decision was reached shortly after Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, spewed radiation into the atmosphere and evolved into the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.

The review, said the official, included studying a 2005 report that focused on Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province — site of a planned nuclear plant near the town of Darkhovin on the northern tip of the Persian Gulf — that was updated in 2010 and early this year with a study of earthquakes that have hit other Iranian provinces in the last decade.

The official said Tuesday that the report warns that "data collected since the year 2000 shows the incontrovertible risks of establishing nuclear sites in the proximity of fault lines" in Khuzestan and 19 other Iranian provinces.

The official, who asked for anonymity in exchange for divulging intelligence information, said the review was conducted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi, Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Revolutionary Guard head Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari.

The meeting ended with instructions approved by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that — despite the scientists' warnings — work should continue on nuclear reactor designs. It was also decided to restrict access to the report, entitled "Geological Analysis and Seismic Activity in Khuzestan: Safety and Environment" by deleting it from computers at Tehran University's Geographic Institute, the official said.

Beyond Darkhovin, Iran has not said where the other planned reactors would be built. But there are few places in the country that are not prone to earthquakes.

Iran is located in a zone of tectonic compression where the Arabian plate is moving into the Eurasian plate, more than 90 percent of it is crisscrossed by seismic fault lines. The country has been rocked by hundreds of killer quakes over past centuries.

Iranian officials confirmed Tuesday that Tehran remained committed to the reactor program without confirming or denying that the leadership reviewed and rejected the scientists' concerns.

"We have long-term programs for peaceful use of the nuclear knowledge; we continue various activities and this will develop the country," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.

Ismail Kowsari, deputy chairman of Iran's powerful parliamentary committee of national interest and foreign policy, told the AP that "we are pursuing a program to have more reactors."

Such a decision would run counter to moves by Japan, as well as nations with little threat from earthquakes and other natural disasters, to reduce dependence on nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Japan has scrapped plans to raise electricity generated by nuclear power to 50 percent by 2030 from the 30 percent now. Germany is accelerating a 25-year plan to phase out nuclear energy altogether. And Italy has put a one-year moratorium on plans to revive nuclear energy after shutting down its reactors more than 20 years ago.

But the recent move fits Iran's fierce commitment to its nuclear program, seen by the leadership as a signpost of national greatness and scientific advancement that puts it on par with developed nations.

Iran has long been at odds with the U.N. Security Council over the goals of its nuclear program. Iran says it is pursing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but the United States and other nations suspect it is trying to make a nuclear bomb.

Iran has bucked four sets of U.N. sanctions rather than give up uranium enrichment, an activity that can be used to generate both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material.


George Jahn is at http://twitter.com/georgejahn


Associated Press Writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.