Beijing, Tehran Finalizing Nuclear Power Plant Deal

Beijing, Tehran Finalizing Nuclear Power Plant DealBeijing, Tehran Finalizing Nuclear Power Plant Deal

Iran is close to finalizing a deal with China on the construction of two nuclear power plants, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said on Tuesday.

"Steps have been taken to finalize a nuclear power plant deal with China. The issue will be discussed during the visit of China's president [Xi Jinping] to Tehran" later this week, Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters while taking the subway to work on the National Clean Air Day on Tuesday, IRNA reported.

The move would mark a major shift in the energy policy of the Persian Gulf state that has partnered with long-time ally Russia in expanding its nuclear power infrastructure in the past two decades.

The Chinese nuclear plants, each with a production capacity of 1,000 megawatts of electricity, will rival the Russian-built Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant that boasts nearly the same output.

The two units are expected to be built at a cost of $8.1 billion in Makran Coasts in the Sea of Oman.

"Several European and Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea are ready for cooperation … Things are different from the past," Salehi said.

He added that the two sides are discussing the construction of several 100-MW power plants in the next phase of cooperation.

The statements came a day after Salehi met with the International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Yukiya Amano, who said Iran and IAEA's cooperation has entered a "new phase".

Iran's nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, came into effect on Saturday, six months after the Persian Gulf nation reached a deal with six world powers (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) on lifting sanctions in exchange for time-bound limits to its nuclear program.

Iran and China's power projects gathered pace in August during a meeting between Salehi and Xu Dazhe, the head of China’s Atomic Energy Authority in the Chinese capital Beijing.

The two sides discussed the framework for building several small-scale power plants with reasonable maintenance costs and desalination units, and reached a preliminary agreement on building the two nuclear plants.

  Russia's Footprint

As Beijing is taking leaps to expand cooperation with the Persian Gulf country, the Kremlin has been quick to bolster economic and energy ties with Tehran over the past few months.

Russian Energy Minister traveled to Tehran in October and November last year in back-to-back visits that culminated in sealing a deal to build a 1,400-MW thermal power plant in the southern port city of Bandar Abbas by Russian contractors.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last year he hoped Moscow would continue the work on at least two more power plants in Bushehr.

"We hope that the first Bushehr power unit will be followed by others. We would not want to limit our bilateral cooperation with Iran even to Bushehr-2 or Bushehr-3," Ryabkov said in August. However, the ambitious plan will come at a whopping cost of $11 billion.

Tehran-Moscow cooperation in the power plant industry stretches back to 1995, when Russian contractors took over the Bushehr plant from the Germans.

The power plant continued to face technical and financial obstacles, but it officially went on stream in September 2011 and reportedly reached full capacity in mid-2014.