UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Bushehr - Background

In 1974, the German contractor Siemens began construction of two 1,200-1,300 megawatt electric (MWe) pressurized water nuclear reactors near Bushehr. The German program included 2100 German workers and roughly 7000 Iranian workers. The Shah of Iran intended that this program would provide Iran with the infrastructure essential for industrializing the country.

The Siemens subsidiary Kraftwerk Union AG (KWU) had been designing and building nuclear power plants since the mid-1950s. Experience gained in the early years with different reactor types soon led to the emergence of the light water reactor as the most economical technology. From the very beginning, Siemens pursued the development of both pressurized water reactor (PWR) and boiling water reactor (BWR) plants. Beginning in the early 1970s the German government supported efforts by Siemens/KWU to secure turnkey nuclear reactor contracts in foreign markets. In 1974, Biblis A went on line in Germany: at that time the world's largest nuclear power plant with a capacity of 1149 MW. The three 1300-MW class Convoy plants (shown below), Isar 2, Emsland and Neckar 2, were built in Germany between 1981 and 1989.

Siemens/KWU Reactors in Germany
Click on the small image to view a larger version

The Bushehr I reactor (shown below) was 85 percent complete and the Bushehr II reactor was partially complete prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and was due to be completed in 1981 as pressure testing of the containment for the first unit had been completed. After the Shah's fall construction of both reactors were halted. Ayatollah Khomeyni declared this project "anti-Islamic," and the government of Mehdi Bazargan soon abandoned it. Interestingly enough, just prior to the Iranian Revolution, the construction of a French-built reactor at a Karum River site had been cancelled and that Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar had decided not to cancel the Bushehr reactors because they were to far along in the construction process. The construction of the nuclear power plant in Bushehr ceased in 1982 as a result of a fire in the plant.

Bushehr I reactor - 1979
Click on the small image to view a larger version

During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi strike aircraft partially damaged both reactors despite reported Iranian efforts to deter such an attack by moving reactor fuel to the site. Iraqi warplanes first struck the Bushehr reactor on 24 March 1984, inflicting light damage. Two more Iraqi air strikes took place in 1985, one in 1986, two in 1987, and a final raid occured in 1988. One of the reactors was severely damaged, with the structure sealed and the containment dome covered in sheet metal. Motor shafts and rotary blades contained within the structures were coated with a tar based paint to protect the parts from corrosion. The damage to the facilities was estimated at $2.9-4.6 billion.

In 1987, an Argentine-Spanish firm was negotiating to finish construction of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Designed to have two 1,200-megawatt reactors, it was expected to take 3 years to complete. However, nothing came of these negotiations.

Iran sought to rebuild the Bushehr reactor, and asked the Germans to resume work on the facility. Iran was unable to persuade Siemens to resume work, in the face of diplomatic pressure applied from the United States. KWU proposed a new design, replacing the nuclear reactors with natural gas operated turbines, but Iran was not interested in this alternative. The legal dispute between Siemens and Iran remained unresolved as of 1998. Iran claimed billions of dollars in damages based on the fact that Iran had paid for a nuclear plant that was never finished. Siemens tried to resolve the dispute, which had been supported by the International Commerce Commission in Paris.

In January 1995 Russia and Iran signed a contract under which Russia would provide one VVER-1000 (aka WWER-1000) 950-1,073 MWe (electrical) light water reactor at Bushehr for $800-million. The VVER-1000 reactor would be similar in configuration to Unit Four of the Russian Balakovskaya plant at Balakovo, Saratov. The Russian reactors would be installed in the original structures designed for the German 1,200-1,300 MWe reactors. Since the horizontal VVER-1000 steam generators were larger than the original German design, the project would require an enlargement of the existing reactor building, though the finished reactor dome would still resemble the German design.

Russian VVER-1000 Reactors
Click on the small image to view a larger version

The agreement between Russia and Iran also called for the spent fuel rods from the reactors to be shipped back to Russia for reprocessing to extract plutonium, which could have been used by an Iranian nuclear weapons production program. Russia had consistently maintained that these light water reactors were similar to the reactors the US was providing North Korea, and cannot be used to produce weapons grade Plutonium.

The deal also called for the possible supply of two modern 465 megawatt VVER-440 reactor units, along with a centrifuge plant to enrich uranium, a 30-50 megawatt research reactor, 2000 tons of natural uranium, and technical training. The centrifuge plant was canceled under American pressure, as of 1997 the status of the research reactor and the uranium was unclear, though the training had been initiated.

On October 3, 1997, the head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Gholamreza Aghazadeh (also the former Oil Minister) announced that Iran would pursue a plan aimed at meeting 20% of the country's electricity demand through nuclear power. Aghazadeh said that the government had decided to build a second 1,000-megawatt (MW) unit at the Bushehr nuclear power complex as soon as work was completed on the existing unit being built by the Russians. Aghazadeh further said that Iran was discussing further nuclear power plant deals with Russia and China. At the time, Iran had five small nuclear reactors, all for research purposes, one in Tehran and four in Isfahan.

Subsequent reports indicated that Iran was facing significant risk of severe power shortages by 2002 if 13,000 MW of additional electricity was not available. It was believed that this was a result of state-owned utilities converting their thermal power plants from oil to gas. The Iranian government hoped that the introduction of the Brushehr facility into the power grid would help prevent shortages.

According to the original contract, as many as 3,000 Russian workers would be dispatched to assist completion by 2000-2001. Russia began work on the project by May 1995 with 150 Russian technicians at the site. By March 1998 the Iranian firms working on the project's infrastructure had fallen behind schedule. In a supplement to the basic contract signed on 29 August 1998, the Russian Atomstroiexport company pledged to finish the construction of the Bushehr power plant on a turnkey arrangement. By the start of 1999, the partners had coordinated works to be performed to the amount of $102 million USD. As many as 900 persons were employed on the site, Russian experts and workers accounting for 300 of these. Russia was expected to complete a feasibility study for a second unit at Bushehr by the end of 2001.

Construction of the facility involved the participation of a variety of Russian firms, one of which was the Leningrad Metallurgy Plant, which would complete the assembly of the main components of the 1,000 MW turbine by December 2001. The original German plan called for the construction of 3400-ton-per-day desalination facility to service the reactor site, but it was unknown whether or not such a facility would be built for the Russian design.

In an effort to ward off future airstrikes against Bushehr and other strategic sites, Iran has sought to purchase Tor-M1, Tor-M1T, and S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia. According to reports, Russia agreed in December 2001 to sell S-300 PMU-01 missiles and to train Iranian personnel in how to operate the system. While it was unclear whether or not such units would be stationed in the immediate vicinity of the reactor facility, existing IKONOS imagery as of 2002 did not indicate an air defense presence.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 12-09-2011 13:10:20 ZULU