Optimism as Iran nuclear talks continue amid unexplained reactor shutdown

·3-min read

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant has suffered an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown, according to the country's Nuclear Energy Organisation. Meanwhile, diplomats in Geneva have expressed optimism over ongoing talks on Iran's international nuclear agreement.

According to a statement from the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI), Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant was shut down due to an unspecified "technical defect" and "disconnected from the national electricity network".

Repairs are expected to last "a few days". In a interview with Iran's state television, an AEOI official said that the incident would cause "power outages".

This is the first time Iran has reported an emergency shutdown of the plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. It went online in 2011 with help from Russia. Iran is required to send spent fuel rods from the reactor back to Russia as a nuclear non-proliferation measure.

'Further progress'

The report came as top diplomats in Geneva, Switzerland, said that "further progress" had been made at talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany in efforts to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). That agreement to control Iranian nuclear development was abandoned by the Trump administration in Washington, and sanctions were reimposed.

In March this year, nuclear official Mahmoud Jafari warned that the Bushehr plant could be forced to stop working because Iran cannot procure parts and equipment for it from Russia due to banking sanctions imposed by the US in 2018.

Bushehr is fuelled by uranium produced in Russia, and is monitored by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA acknowledged being aware of reports about the plant, but declined to comment.

Atoms for peace

Construction of the plant, on the coast of the northern Persian Gulf, began under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the mid-1970s, and was a spin-off of the US-sponsored “Atoms for Peace” program, a cold war initiative aimed at balancing fear of nuclear war with prospects for the peaceful use of uranium.

In March 1974, the Shah unfolded plans to build 23 nuclear plants by the year 2000, claiming the energy would be used as a substitute for oil. Loans worth billions and nuclear cooperation agreements were signed with the US, France, Germany, South Africa and others. Only the Bushehr plant is currently operational as an energy provider.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the plant was repeatedly targeted in the Iran-Iraq war and Russia later completed construction of the facility.

Final meeting

Meanwhile, the European Union on Sunday chaired the final meeting in Vienna of the sixth round of talks between Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran.

The nations involved in the negotiations have been trying to resolve the major outstanding issues on how to return the US to the nuclear agreement.

The meeting was the first since Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election last Friday. Some diplomats expressed concern that the election of the hard-line incoming president could complicate a possible return to the nuclear agreement.

(with agencies)

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