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Bushehr, Not A Second Chernobyl

03/14/11 By Dr. Sadeq Rabbani, Former Deputy of the Nuclear Energy Organization (source: Iranian Diplomacy)

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, Iran
The reactor building of Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant located outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran

The Russians claim that they were obliged to remove the fuel from the Bushehr nuclear reactor in order to replace a part that was installed during the time the Germans were managing the construction of the plant. It should be noted that according to the contract with Russia for construction of the Bushehr plant, the Russians replaced all inner parts of the reactor and presented a new design. In the German model, a vertical design was used, but the Russians adopted the horizontal model. This means that the created problem was not related to the inner parts of the German-designed reactor.

So the Russians were paid for the construction of the Bushehr reactor and have also changed the design. Now the problem is whether the Russians were wrong in their design. It is unlikely that the Russians were wrong in their design, because this is not the first plant that they have constructed, and their experience is valuable.

There remains only the Stuxnet virus that Iran denies has been able to affect the Bushehr facilitates. So, if we assume that the Iranian authorities are right, the Russians are playing with us by delaying the launch of the Bushehr plant, and want to continue to delay launching it.

In my mind, in this case, their claim is not acceptable, unless the Stuxnet affected the plant. Stuxnet is a virus capable of transmitting wrong information to the operator and those who want to launch the plant. Namely, if the temperature gets higher, the defect caused by the virus causes devices to show a lower temperature. If this is true, it can cause a disaster as massive as the Chernobyl catastrophe. Incidentally, one of the Russian authorities has mentioned such a possibility.

However, It is very improbable that a disaster like Chernobyl would occur, because the fuel at the Bushehr power plant is fresh and new. The Chernobyl disaster was caused due to the reactor meltdown had radioactive materials that could leak from the burned materials. But the materials in the Bushehr plant are fresh fuel, containing not as much radioactive materials.

In my mind, regardless of such unreliable assumptions, a melting of the core of the plant might happen, damaging the fuel, but this cannot be called a disaster because a catastrophe happens when there is fuel ash in the plant-unburned fuel has no ash, so it is not as problematic.

So it is possible that something took place in the reactor because of the misinformation of Stuxnet which therefore made the fuel unfavorable; thus it was necessary to change the amount of fuel and to replace it. A process which is, of course, time-consuming.

In his report, IAEA Chief Amano also pointed out that a technical problem had occurred at the Bushehr plant and precautionary measures had to be adopted. Therefore, there is no doubt that some problem was caused that forced the authorities to remove the fuel: this is probably a mere excuse, because if it was so, the Russians could make other less damaging excuses. Now the Russians want to associate the technical problems with the Germans and blame them. This is not acceptable to us, because the Russians had the responsibility for the plant and if they blame anyone, it will be unlikely to be true. Now if the problem is a potential meltdown of the reactor core, the task will be postponed and it makes the process of problem solving much longer. Of course, unless it is estimated how much damage was caused, the delay period cannot be determined. If a meltdown of the reactor occurred, it would be not possible to compensate in less than a year, unless there is a spare fuel and technical problems are resolved very quickly. But if the technical issues are simple, the issue can be resolved soon.

But alongside these questions, it should be noted that we are always doubtful about the Russians, whom we cannot trust. The Russians have proved that under international pressure they will provide excuses to not launch the Bushehr plant. Regarding the international pressure on Iran's nuclear program, the Russians also want to behave very carefully toward Iran but also not let down the West.

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