Iran fires up nuke plant, connects to grid

If you think nuclear plant construction here is slow, Iran’s pace is glacial but after 35 years has finally come full term.

09/06/2011


Iran has finally entered the atomic age, publically at least, as its one and only more-or-less finished nuclear power plant connects to the grid. The Bushehr (strictly peaceful) nuclear power plant is about 750 miles south of Tehran on the Persian Gulf, and is a 1,000 MW, (presently) single unit facility. Originally the plan was to have four units on this site, but as of now the plan has been pulled back to three, which may still be wishful thinking. There have been many premature reports that it is just about ready to go online any minute now, but this time it looks like it’s legit, running at low power and ramping up to hit 40% of total output by next week.

   Construction on this plant began in 1975 led by Siemens and a group of other German companies back when the Shah was still in power. (Raise your hand if you’re old enough to remember the Shah.) Apparently he was looking ahead to the time when oil would be too expensive for use as a fuel, and had plans to build 23,000 MW of nuclear generating capacity. Things ground to a halt after the revolution in 1979. Siemens and its syndicate abandoned the project leaving two units under construction. Things sat quietly corroding in the hot salty air by the gulf, with occasional bombing damage during the Iran-Iraq war in the mid-1980s.

   The Iranians brought in a Russian group to start construction again in the mid-1990s, and work started slowly with the expectation of completion by 2001. The site quickly became a hodge-podge of equipment as Atomstroyexport decided to use its reactor design along with some of the remaining Siemens equipment. The international community in general wasn’t excited about the prospects, and Russia was having its own internal problems during that time, so it all got pretty complicated politically. Still, negotiations continued, and by 2005, the U.S. withdrew its official opposition to the project and things were stable enough with the Russians for things to begin again in earnest. Now it’s ready to go.

   While I think nuclear power is a pretty good idea in most situations, this one seems a little scary. Let’s accept for the sake of argument that this facility does not offer support for Iran’s desire to create weapons-grade nuclear material. We’ll also assume that Russian operators and trainers are on site to keep things on an even keel, running a Soviet-era reactor design. It still gives me the heebie geebies. This is just one more reason I’m glad I don’t live over there.



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