Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr now being loaded with fuel

Thirty-six years in the making, it’s finally opening for business, representing in Reuters’s words “a potent symbol of [Iran’s] growing regional sway and rejection of international sanctions.” If you missed our post a few days ago about what it means (and doesn’t mean), take two minutes to get up to speed. This doesn’t bring them any closer to a bomb; on the contrary, the spin today — from both sides — is that Bushehr proves that nuclear power for Iran is A-OK. The sticking point, as it always has been, is uranium enrichment. Bushehr runs on uranium that’s been enriched to 3.5 percent, which is pure enough to power a reactor but nowhere near the 90 percent purity needed to make a bomb. Which raises the question: If Russia’s willing to provide them with the harmless 3.5 percent stuff they need to keep Bushehr going, why does Iran want to keep enriching its own?

The answer’s … not quite clear:

Iran will continue to enrich its own uranium, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the country’s semi-official Fars news agency on Saturday, hours after Russian nuclear fuel began to be inserted into Iran’s first nuclear reactor…

Mottaki said that if the United States “would pay attention to the Islamic Parliament’s respective ratification they would realize that [Iran’s] government has been asked to arrange for production of 20.000 megawatts of nuclear electricity through nuclear power plants.”…

Mottaki said that Iran’s scale need to energy is obvious and that is the reason why we want to produce the required fuel ourselves,” adding that “as a member of the NPT agreement…Iran is permitted to produce the nuclear fuel that its power plants need, and the additional amount, too, can be delivered to those other countries that might need it afterwards.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that western powers would happily supply all the 3.5 percent uranium Iran needs in return for them agreeing to cancel their enrichment program, which would guarantee that they can’t make the impure stuff bomb-pure. But that’ll never happen, of course, because Iran wants nukes — or at least the “breakout capacity” needed to generate bomb-grade uranium quickly if they need to — and because as a matter of pure nationalism, the regime’s not about to forfeit the single most potent symbol of its power. Especially not after the “unpleasantness” with Mousavi’s followers last summer.

Below you’ll find a useful two-minute primer from the BBC about the reactor’s opening. Not mentioned: The fact that Russia pressed ahead with today’s launch despite the fact that its western “allies” would have much preferred that they find an excuse to delay. Greenroomer J.E. Dyer flagged that possibility weeks ago, and now here it is. She’s also got a series up, which I recommend, on what the next steps mean for politics in the region. I’ll leave you with a taste:

Iran is not a great enough power, even with nuclear weapons, to step into America’s shoes in the region. Someone else will try to, and we don’t have to guess who. It will be a competition between Russia and China, with Russia holding the lead at the starting line. Turkey, seeing herself under Erdogan’s leadership as a resurgent regional hegemon, will seek to broker it. Those four nations – Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey – will offer all the patronage they can to line up the other nations in their corner and block the advances of the other three. They’ll cultivate each other as necessary to establish advantage. They will have far less compunction than the US in their dealings with smaller nations and vulnerable peoples, as we have seen with Russia in the Caucasus, China in Tibet, and Turkey with the Kurds. But the nations of the region will have no choice but to seek accommodation and alignment with them. US power will be increasingly inert.

Click the image to watch.