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Scientists warn of Iran nuke plant danger

Jan. 17, 2011 at 8:04 AM   |   Comments

MOSCOW, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Russian scientists warned they "cannot guarantee" the safety of an Iranian nuclear reactor because of damage by a computer virus, intelligence reports indicate.

Scientists providing technical assistance in Iran's efforts to activate its first nuclear power plant raised concerns about damage caused to the Bushehr facility's computer systems by the Stuxnet virus, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported Monday.

Western intelligence reports indicate Russian scientists warned the Kremlin they could be facing "another Chernobyl" if forced to meet Iran's tight deadline to bring the complex online this summer.

The scientists' report to the Kremlin, which was viewed by the Telegraph, said that despite "performing simple, basic tests" on the Bushehr reactor, the Russian team "cannot guarantee safe activation of the reactor."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who also leads the country's Atomic Energy Organization, rejected calls for postponement of Bushehr's scheduled opening.

"All the rumors related to the Westerners' claims that Stuxnet had caused damage to the nuclear plants are rejected," he said.

The Stuxnet virus, discovered last year, is widely believed to have been a joint U.S.-Israeli cyberattack meant to hinder Iran's aspirations for nuclear weapons, the British publication said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has downplayed Tehran's progress in getting the nuclear facility running, saying, "Their program, from our best estimate, has been slowed down" because of "technological problems," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Computer experts have examined the computer worm for months but say the operation's success has been unclear, the Times said. However, a consensus has emerged in recent weeks that Stuxnet has had a measurable effect.

The independent Institute for Science and International Security said Stuxnet appears to have "set back Iran's progress."

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