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Nuclear fuel to arrive in Iran Saturday

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nuclear fuel scheduled to arrive Saturday from Russia
  • Ceremony Saturday will mark delivery
  • Electricity will not be generated for several months

(CNN) -- Nuclear fuel is scheduled to arrive at Iran's first atomic energy plant Saturday, a development being watched by Western nations.

Russian and Iranian dignitaries will observe the delivery of nuclear fuel from Russia at the southern port city of Bushehr at 9.am. (2 a.m. ET), Iran's official news agency IRNA reported Saturday.

Iran says it will use the fuel to create atomic energy. Some Western nations are concerned that Iran eventually will try to enrich uranium on its own, providing material for nuclear weapons

The nuclear fuel will be delivered to a pool beside the "heart of the reactor," IRNA reported, a historic feat for the Islamic nation still vying for its right to enrich uranium to produce electricity.

Ali Aknar Salehi, head of Iran's atomic energy organization, told IRNA that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will witness the handling of the nuclear fuel.

"Within about 10 days, 163 nuclear facilities will start operation, making delivery of 82 tons of initial fuel to the heart of the reactor possible," IRNA reported.

It will take about two months for the reactor to begin generating electricity, IRNA reported, but Russia's nuclear agency says it will take longer.

Despite international protests, Salehi turned down a White House call to suspend uranium enrichment once Russia's supplies arrive, IRNA reported.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, recently asserted Iran's right to establish nuclear plants.

Sergei Kiriyenko, general director of Rosatom, the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation said Saturday's arrival of nuclear fuel marks "an event of crucial importance" that proves that "Russia always fulfills its international obligations."

Spent nuclear fuel from the plant will be sent back to Russia.

The opening of the plant prompted the White House to question Iran continuing to enrich uranium within its borders.

"Russia is providing the fuel, and taking the fuel back out," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier this month.

"It, quite clearly, I think, underscores that Iran does not need its own enrichment capability if its intentions, as it states, are for a peaceful nuclear program," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking to Russian reporters in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Wednesday, brushed off Western concerns about the Bushehr facility, calling it "the most important anchor holding Iran to the nonproliferation regime," according to the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti.

The Bushehr facility was originally scheduled to start operations in 2007, but the date for commissioning the plant has been postponed a number of times due to various technical, financial and political factors.