Iran Says Nukes Are for Electricity

BUSHEHR, Iran - Iran on Wednesday rejected U.S. accusations that it would use its nuclear program to secretly produce atomic weapons, saying all facilities are open to international inspectors.

The burgeoning nuclear program intends to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020, the deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Assadollah Sabori, told The Associated Press.

"There is nothing secret about our nuclear program," Sabori said, adding, "We keep all our nuclear facilities open to IAEA inspection."

The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency based in Vienna, Austria.

But the White House disputes Iran's contention that the program is for producing energy, saying the country already possesses some of the largest reserves of oil and natural gas in the world.

"We completely reject Iran's claim that it is doing so (building nuclear reactors) for peaceful purposes," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has said.

Washington also urged Iran on Tuesday to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which would subject sites to more rigorous inspections.

On Wednesday, a French newspaper quoted Iran's nuclear energy chief as saying his country would sign the treaty if Western countries drop sanctions against Tehran. Gholamreza Aghazadeh told Le Monde that Iran neither had the need for nuclear arms nor the capacity to build them.

Washington imposed sanctions on Iran banning the sale of dual-use technology after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by militant students. Other Western nations also refuse to sell dual-use or nuclear technology to Iran.

Sabori said it was unfair to pressure Iran for trying to acquire nuclear technology. When the pro-American Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi ruled Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution, the country planned to build 23 nuclear plants when its average annual power consumption was less than 3,000 megawatts, he said.

"Now, Iran's annual power consumption is 30,000 megawatts. It would have been more logical for the United States to put Iran under pressure before 1979," he said.

"The United States has more oil and Russia has more gas than Iran. Yet, the United States has 104 and Russia 30 operating nuclear plants, respectively."

On Tuesday, Iran allowed international media to tour the nuclear power plant being built in southern Bushehr. It was the first time outsiders were allowed in the plant, Iran's first.

"The presence of over 80 international journalists shows our nuclear policy is transparent," Sabori said.

The Russian-built plant is more than 70 percent complete and should go on stream next year. Its capacity will be 1,000 megawatts.

Although Russia will provide nuclear fuel for Bushehr, Iran wants to control the whole fuel cycle, from mining uranium ore to enriching uranium at a centrifuge plant being built in central Natanz.

That site was inspected last month by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei.

The Washington Post reported this week that the Natanz project will enable Iran to produce enough enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs each year.

Another nuclear facility in central Isfahan will go on stream in about three months, Sabori said. It will convert uranium ore into gas that will be enriched at Natanz, where it will be made into fuel pellets used in a reactor.