Who is to blame for the Russian-Iranian nuclear dispute?

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - "We are getting the impression that Iran has lost interest in the construction [of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant] - it has not paid us a cent since the middle of January," said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, at a news conference in Italy.

The very fact that he was asked about Bushehr in a third country shows that the world is watching the Russian-Iranian conflict. Nevertheless, the case itself is trivial, and would not be of any interest if it were not for the odious Iranian nuclear dossier and the country's political situation.

The heart of the conflict is financial disagreements between contractor and client. Moscow has not received $12.7 million that Tehran claims to have transferred.

"We consider the Iranian statement on the transfer of funds to Atomstroyexport [the Russian nuclear-equipment export monopoly] on March 1 to be absurd," said the company's vice president, Yevgeniya Neimerovets. The problem is probably linked with currency exchange (from U.S. dollars to Euros) or red tape, but if Iran were really interested in resolving the problem, it would do something about it instead of merely demonstrating its ambitions.

There is no reason to look for an answer to the question of who is to blame. As lawyers would say, this is a case of force majeure. This project is unique, and Russian engineers have had to rack their brains in search of clever technological solutions in order to complete what German engineers started over thirty years ago and then abandoned. But who is going to appreciate this? The client is interested in results rather than process.

The emerging difficulties were expected because this project had to be completed, not built from scratch. But now they have been overcome, and the project is about 95% completed. Only the finishing touches have to be made, but lack of money has stopped the work. The no-money-no-work attitude is a hard and fast rule in client-contractor relations. But instead of trying to find a logical solution to the problem, Tehran prefers to politicize it. Mohammad Saidi, deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, has said in no uncertain terms that though it is true the Bushehr project has financial and technical problems, they will become more serious if Russia fails to supply Iran with nuclear fuel by the end of March.

Why this emphasis on fuel? The Bushehr fuel contract was paid for long ago, and this fuel is currently at the depots of the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant, waiting to be delivered. But what is the point of sending it to the Bushehr construction site before the reactor is ready? Nuclear fuel is not pistachios or almonds, and the cash-and-carry logic of the Oriental bazaar does not fit in here. Nuclear fuel rods are packed with fuel elements - tvels, in nuclear jargon. They require special handling and storage before they get into the reactor.

Moscow needs the money to pay a team of experts for the most sensitive phases of work: to prepare the reactor to be loaded with nuclear fuel and to buy the ordered equipment in Russia and abroad.

"Russia has not changed its commitments to supply fuel to Bushehr - it will be delivered six months before the plant's commissioning," Kiriyenko emphasized. But the deadline for the commissioning, scheduled for September, will be postponed because of financial trouble. Kiriyenko said that his agency had no special demands on the Bushehr project. "All we want to know is when we are going to get paid," he said.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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