Tehran // Russian and Iranian firms began work on Saturday on two additional reactors at Iran’s nuclear power plant on the Arabian Gulf coast at Bushehr.
The expansion of the plant, which has raised concern among GCC countries, comes after a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions was signed with major powers in July last year.
Project manager Mahmoud Jafari said construction of the two 1,000 megawatt reactors, which is being carried out jointly with an Iranian firm, would take a decade and cost up to US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn).
“When these two units become operational, 11 million barrels of oil will be saved per year and emission of 7 million tons of greenhouse gas will be avoided,” he said.
Some 8,000 workers are involved in the project, which is being led by Russia’s Rosatom with Iran’s Nuclear Power Production and Development Company.
“The construction of the first reactor proved that Russia always fulfils its obligations towards foreign partners, regardless of the changes in the world’s political climate,” Rosatom chief Sergei Kirienko said as the foundation stone was laid in Bushehr.
He said the new reactors marked “a serious step towards strengthening Russia’s position in the international peaceful nuclear technology market.”
The plants would be built according to high safety standards, “particularly those defined after Fukushima,” Mr Kirienko said, referring to the Japanese nuclear power plant badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In 2013, the UAE and Saudi Arabia raised safety concerns at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting after two powerful earthquakes temporarily shut down the Bushehr reactor.
Both Iranian officials and the Russian manufacturers claimed that the facility was not damaged, but diplomats at the IAEA said one concrete section of the structures had developed cracks.
Iran’s top nuclear official, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the new project would be monitored by the IAEA and was in line with the Non-Proliferation Treaty. He called the project “a new page in the trend of our peaceful industrial nuclear activities.”
Iran is seeking to reduce its reliance on oil and gas with 20 nuclear facilities planned over the coming years, including nine being built with Russian firms.
Russia built the existing 1,000 megawatt reactor at Bushehr that came online in September 2011 and reached full capacity the following year.
In November 2014, it signed a “cooperation contract” to help build the two new reactors at Bushehr, along with plans to eventually construct nine more reactors across Iran.
Two of those may be built at Bushehr, which would take the total to five.
The July 2015 deal Iran signed with six major powers including Russia placed restrictions on the sort of nuclear reactor it could develop and its production of nuclear fuel.
But it did not require Iran to halt its use of nuclear energy for power generation.
*Agence France-Presse and Associated Press