These days Bushehr has become famous for the location of Iran's first nuclear power plant which came on stream on August 21, 2010. What has turned this fishing port on the northern shores of the Persian Gulf into a household name for a civilian nuclear complex around the world seems to transcend the importance of this nuclear power plant for Iran. After all there are already 35 countries in the world including two of Iran's immediate neighbors, Pakistan and Armenia, who enjoy the use of nuclear energy. The question is therefore why so much attention is being drawn to Bushehr?

There are some explanations: Most importantly is that this project with all the opposition and defiance by the West has succeeded and has become a symbol of the rights of non- nuclear states to have access to nuclear energy. In fact the completion of this project is a turning point for the nuclear non-proliferation regime that has been under much stress in the last two decades. The emphasis on nuclear proliferation issues has been largely exaggerated and misused for maintaining a monopoly in the market and depriving many aspiring countries to have a vibrant civilian nuclear industry. Iran is at the forefront to break that deadlock and the Bushehr plant is considered as the symbol of that endeavor.

Although Iran's nuclear program dates back to more than a half a century, its current nuclear program with Bushehr at its core dates back to 37 years ago. After the 1973 oil shock the drive toward nuclear energy was worldwide. Some industrial countries like France in reaction to that development and in order to decrease their reliance on oil opted for extensive use of nuclear energy and planned accordingly. Iran an oil producing country also joined this group of countries although with different motivation and to preserve its valuable oil for better use in the oil industry and for export. Soon Iran reached extensive agreements with some Western countries especially France and Germany on different areas of nuclear activities, ranging from installation of several nuclear power plants to participation in a consortium involved in the enrichment of uranium to fuel the nuclear reactors.

Among those multibillion dollar contracts there were two nuclear power plants that were to be constructed by a German company Siemens in Bushehr. In 1979 almost 70 percent of one of two reactors in Bushehr was completed but after the victory of Islamic Revolution in Iran and invasion of Iran by Baathist regime in Iraq the work stopped and never resumed by the Germans. The irony is that this project similar to the project of construction of Iran's first steel mill started with the help of Germany in the 1930s and was aborted due to occurrence of the Second World War, was latter completed by Russians.

The project of completion of Bushehr nuclear power plant by the Russia went through a hefty track facing different technical, financial and political obstacles. Thus the project that was due to be completed in four years according to the agreement signed in 1995 took full 15 years for completion.

First, it was a technical problem that was not taken into account at the time of deciding to continue the work on the unfinished German design power plant. As it became clear in the course of reconstruction and adaptation of Russian model to the German system was an arduous task that involved changing much of the system with lots of money and time wasted.

Second, the issue of cost of the project and revision of the estimated costs due to the lengthy delays was another matter. Claim for more expenses by Russia and negotiations for reaching an agreement caused even more delays.

Last, but more importantly was political issues involved with this project that caused much delays and raised the suspicion among Iranians that Russia was trying to extract as much political mileage as it could from the project and by using "Iranian card" in their strategic relations with the West.  The issue of spent fuel and its return to Russia was one example that Russia insisted upon Western encouragement and despite it was not stipulated in the original agreement. That clause was eventually accepted by Iran and of course with additional cost imposed on Iran.

In general, the policy of delaying tactics was to discourage Iran from pursuing its nuclear activities especially in the fuel cycle area which had no connection at least theoretically to the Bushehr power plant. The argument was that since Iran does not have a nuclear power plant it did not needed enrichment and nuclear fuel production industry. Thus delay in completion of Bushehr served that argument. Of course with Bushehr coming into steam that argument holds no value anymore.

The other beneficial aspect of the delays in operating the Bushehr power plant for Iran, mostly unseen by observers, is the issue of experience that Iranians have obtained during the 15 years that the project prolonged.  The experience attained in coping with different technical problems in the assimilation of Russian nuclear technology with the Western system was valuable. That was a precious opportunity for Iranians to have training on job that could have not been possible if the Bushehr was a turnkey project as it is the case with other countries and preferred by exporting company. As a result of this process Iran has now thousands of skilled engineers and technicians that can carry on the task of building new reactors and achieving the state goal of producing 20 thousand megawatts of nuclear energy within 20 years.

Although the opposition to the Bushehr nuclear power plant continues in some Western quarters, as it was obvious from the beginning the concerns for nuclear proliferation in Bushehr was unfounded since this power plant has been under the safe guards of the IAEA from the first day. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the eve of inauguration of Bushehr stated the Bushehr nuclear power plant would keep Iran firmly fixed to the peaceful use of nuclear power. With Bushehr coming to activity the world will be more convinced that Iran has been sincere in its policy of peaceful use of nuclear energy. With a new nuclear renaissance Iran is apt to be a model for countries who thrive to use peaceful nuclear energy in full capacity.


* Nasser Saghafi-Ameri is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research in Tehran. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it