Iran reports setback at its nuclear plant

In a report on Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran told inspectors on Wednesday that it was planning to unload nuclear fuel from its Bushehr reactor — the sign of a major upset. For years, Tehran has hailed the reactor as a showcase of its peaceful nuclear intentions and its imminent startup as a sign of quickening progress.

But nuclear experts said the giant reactor, Iran’s first nuclear power plant, now threatens to become a major embarrassment, as engineers remove 163 fuel rods from its core. Iran gave no reason for the unexpected fuel unloading, but it has previously admitted that the Stuxnet computer worm infected the Bushehr reactor. On Friday, experts debated whether Stuxnet was responsible for the surprising development.

Russia, which provided the fuel to Iran, said earlier this month that the worm’s infection of the reactor should be investigated, arguing that it might trigger a nuclear disaster. Other experts said those fears were overblown, but noted that the full workings of the Stuxnet worm remained unclear.

Nuclear experts said the trouble behind the fuel unloading could range from minor safety issues and operational ineptitude to serious problems that would bring the reactor’s brief operational life to a premature end. “It could be simple and embarrassing all the way to ‘game over,” said David A Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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