Bushehr contractors withdrawn

March 21, 2007 at 1:28 PM
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BUSHEHR, Iran, March 21 (UPI) -- The Russian nuclear firm building a plant in Bushehr, Iran, has reportedly begun removing technicians and engineers from the site.

Kommersant reports Atomstroyexport denies removing the workers, though it cites anonymous European diplomats and U.S. officials who say all have been sent back to Russia.

Atomstroyexport says only two visiting workers returned to Moscow.

The Bushehr plant is somewhat a de facto player in the ongoing international crisis over Iran's nuclear program. The reactor is not thought to be a proliferation threat and the International Atomic Energy Agency doesn't believe it is part of Iran's alleged weapons program.

Russia has a $1 billion contract to build the Bushehr reactor, but has recently claimed Iran is failing in its payment plan. Iran denies this and says Moscow is making the plant political, using it as leverage to get Tehran to bend in negotiations.

The United States and other countries say Iran's nuclear program is intended to develop weapons. The U.N. Security Council has passed sanctions after Iran refused to stop enriching uranium and allow greater access to IAEA inspectors.

Iran says it has the sovereign right to nuclear energy, including a full fuel cycle. Uranium enrichment could provide fuel for both nuclear reactors and weapons.

Russia says the Bushehr row is over money issues, not politics. Moscow has backed Iran's claim to nuclear power rights, but urges it to comply more with inspectors and the U.N. Security Council.

Russia was to deliver fuel to Bushehr this month and the reactor would come online six months later. Instead, Atomstroyexport says the payment delay has pushed back work on the plant, thus pushing back that timeline.

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