TEHRAN, Iran Iran received its first nuclear fuel from Russia on Monday, paving the way for the startup of its reactor in 2008.
Both the U.S. and Russia said that with the shipment, the Iranians would no longer have any reason to produce enriched uranium that could be used to build a nuclear weapon.
But Iran said it would continue its enrichment activities at a separate facility, in the central city of Natanz, to provide fuel for another nuclear reactor. Not only that, it indicated that construction had begun on just such a reactor, in Darkhovin in southwestern Iran.
"We are currently constructing a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in Darkhovin," Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh said on state television. Previously Iran had always described the Darkhovin plant as being in the planning stages.
Aghazadeh said it will take several more years for Iran to install 50,000 centrifuges in Natanz, an industrial-scale enrichment plant, to produce the fuel needed for Darkhovin.
Tehran says the enrichment program is part of an effort to generate electricity, but the United States fears it will lead to weapons development.
After initial opposition, the U.S. now publicly supports Russia providing uranium fuel to Iran so long as Moscow retrieves the used reactor fuel for reprocessing, as stipulated in an agreement between Russia and Iran.
"If that's the case if the Russians are willing to do that, which I support then the Iranians do not need to learn how to enrich," Bush said in Fredricksburg, Va. "If the Iranians accept that uranium for civilian nuclear power, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich."
Bush also reiterated his view that "Iran's a danger to peace," despite a recent U.S. intelligence estimate that found Iran halted a nuclear weapons program in 2003.
"My attitude hasn't changed toward Iran," he said. "If somebody had a weapons program, what's to say they couldn't start it up tomorrow?"
The construction of the Bushehr plant has been frequently delayed. Officials said the delays were a result of payment disputes, but many observers suggested Russia also was unhappy with Iran's resistance to international pressure to make its nuclear program more open and to assure the international community that it was not developing nuclear arms.
Russia announced last week that its construction disputes with Iran had been resolved and said fuel deliveries would begin about a half year before Bushehr was expected to go into service.
"All fuel that will be delivered will be under the control and guarantees of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the whole time it stays on Iranian territory," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Moreover, the Iranian side gave additional written guarantees that the fuel will be used only for the Bushehr nuclear power plant."
The Iranians trumpeted Russia's decision to deliver fuel Monday as a victory for Iran, with Aghazadeh calling it "a message for the world."
Aghazadeh said the Bushehr plant was 95 percent complete and would begin operations "next year."
He indicated the reactor needed 80 tons of nuclear fuel during the initial phase of operation, but did not provide further details.
Although at first opposed to Russian participation in building and supplying Bushehr, the United States and its allies agreed to remove any reference to the project in the first set of U.N. Security Council sanctions passed a year ago, in exchange for Moscow's support for those penalties.