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Sat 9 Feb 2008 12:55 PM

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Iran begins work on second atomic plant

Construction has started at Darkhovin near border with Iraq, Iran's ambassador to Russia says.

Iran has started building a second atomic power plant in an oil-rich region near the border with Iraq, Iran's ambassador to Russia was quoted as saying on Friday by Itar-Tass news agency.

Gholamreza Ansari said construction had started at Darkhovin in south-western Khuzestan province. Iran has said it would construct a 360-megawatt plant at the site.

"Now we need to think about the fuel for it," Tass quoted him as saying at a news briefing in Moscow. A spokesman for the Iranian embassy confirmed the comment.

Iran has been building its first nuclear power plant near the southern city of Bushehr, where Tehran says test operations could start later this year. Final deliveries of nuclear fuel by Russia arrived at the plant last month.

Western countries suspect Iran's nuclear activities are aimed at weapon-building. Iran, the world's fourth largest crude oil producer, says it wants only to generate electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.

Iran wants to build other power plants by 2020 as part of a planned network with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts to satisfy soaring domestic electricity demand.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE) has mentioned the Darkhovin project in previous reports on Iran.

But Iran curbed access by the watchdog's inspectors to planned nuclear sites last year, and stopped providing design data on them, in retaliation for UN sanctions imposed on it.

A senior IAEA source declined to say whether those restrictions remained with respect to Darkhovin or other sites. The matter will be addressed in the next agency report on Iran due around February 20.

The ambassador to Moscow said Iran had been trying to ease Russian concerns about its space programme after the test launch of a rocket this month.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Ministry Alexander Losyukov said this week the launch raised suspicions about the real nature of Iran's atomic programme.

"We are explaining to our friends that we are not pursuing any military goals as far as our space research is concerned," the ambassador was quoted as saying. (Reuters)

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