Iran plans to construct two more nuclear power plants despite international concern over its atomic programme, a top official said today.
Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said he did not expect the plan to affect upcoming nuclear talks with Europe.
“We plan to construct two more nuclear power plants. We will do it through an international tender. It is part of meeting our electricity needs; it is not a secret issue,” Larijani told a news conference.
Earlier today, state-run television reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cabinet ministers had decided last night to build a reactor in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran.
Previously, Iran has said it would build a second power plant at Bushehr, where its first nuclear reactor is due to begin generating electricity in 2006.
It was not clear whether Larijani’s comments referred to the Khuzestan and Bushehr plants.
Khuzestan province is the site of an unfinished French-built power plant; construction was halted after 1979 Islamic revolution.
Parliament has asked for the construction of 20 nuclear power plants. Russia, which built the Bushehr reactor, has offered to build more nuclear plants in Iran.
“Any foreign company, public or private, could purchase a share and participate in Iran’s nuclear programme. This is the ultimate level of transparency in Iran’s nuclear programme,” Larijani said when asked if Americans would be allowed to submit an offer.
Iran is under intense pressure to curb its nuclear programme, which the US and its allies claim is part of an effort to produce weapons. Iran says its programme is limited to generating electricity.
Larijani said Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expects the same rights as Japan, Korea, India and Brazil. He said Iran hopes to reach a result in negotiations with Europe within several months.
No date has been set to resume the talks with Britain, France and Germany, which broke off in August after Tehran restarted uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment.
“Iran and Europe could have a win-win game in the talks. Having enrichment on our soil in Iran and assuring Europe that there will be no diversion in Iran’s nuclear programme,” Larijani said.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks published today that he would support a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear programme. Israel has repeatedly identified Iran as its biggest threat and dismissed Tehran’s claim that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
“I advise you not to take it so seriously,” Larijani said of Netanyahu’s comments. “Iran is powerful enough. It is a difficult target. This is not the first time that Israelis make such comments. But it has never been taken seriously here. Those who quickly lose their temper will quickly get calm.
“Comparing Iran and Iraq is wrong. If they do such a mistake, they will add to their own problems. Attacking Iran will have a lot of consequences,” said Larijani, who is also secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
While Iran has frozen its enrichment programme, it restarted uranium conversion – a step toward enrichment – in August. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned Iran that its nuclear programme could be referred to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions on the country.
On Saturday, Iran approved a bill that would block international inspections of its atomic facilities if it were referred to the Security Council. The step strengthens the government’s hand in resisting international pressure to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or atomic bombs.
The US and European Union want Iran to permanently halt uranium enrichment. But Tehran says the NPT allows it to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes and that it will never give up the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.
Larijani said the IAEA and others should not focus on intentions but on realities.
“The West should not challenge Iran’s nuclear programme while the US says it will take long years for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons,” he said.
“Iran is patient to solve the case wisely but it does not tolerate time-wasting.”