* Iran says Bushehr to start generating power soon
* Would be only state with plant outside safety convention
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, June 2 The U.N. nuclear agency urged
Iran on Thursday to join a 72-nation atomic safety convention,
as the earthquake-prone Middle East country prepares to bring
its first nuclear power station into service.
The 1996 Convention on Nuclear Safety was designed to boost
safeguards after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, an issue that has
gained fresh urgency following Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis
this year, through a system of peer review and mutual oversight.
Denis Flory, deputy director general of the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Iran would be the only country
operating a nuclear power plant not to belong to the convention.
"Our first wish would be that all (IAEA) member states
operating nuclear power plants in the world are parties to the
convention on nuclear safety," Flory told a news conference.
Iranian media reported in early May that final tests were
being conducted at the Bushehr plant and that it was expected to
start generating electricity in the next two months.
Meant to be the first of a network of nuclear power stations
Iran says it is planning, the Russian-built complex has missed
deadline after deadline to come onstream. Most recently fuel had
to be removed and checked for technical problems.
A senior Russian official said in mid-May that Bushehr would
be fully operational within weeks. [ID:nLDE74B1LY]
Flory said Iran could demonstrate its commitment to safety
by signing up to the global convention. Western officials have
also called on Iran to join the pact.
Iran is embroiled in a long-running dispute with Western
powers over its nuclear programme. Its ties with the IAEA have
also become strained, but it is not clear whether that has
influenced Tehran's attitude towards the safety convention.
REGIONAL SECURITY CONCERN?
Last week, Iran's envoy to the IAEA said the country was
"showing maximum vigilance" about safety.
Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh also suggested that the U.N.
agency was already involved, telling a public debate that "every
safety matter is monitored" by the Vienna-based body.
But Flory said IAEA member states were responsible for
safety and the agency had no such role at Bushehr.
"We do not monitor Bushehr, no more than we monitor any
other nuclear plant in the world," he said. "We do not have
ground to state that they follow all IAEA safety standards."
The IAEA has no powers to enforce its safety recommendations
-- unlike its authority to curb any atomic arms proliferation,
where it takes the lead role in monitoring countries like Iran
that some Western countries accuse of seeking a nuclear bomb.
Flory said he believed "more weight" should be given to IAEA
safety standards to help rebuild confidence in nuclear energy
around the world after the Fukushima emergency.
A London-based think-tank, the International Institute for
Strategic Studies, said in a report after the Fukushima accident
that Bushehr's location on the Gulf coast made the safety of
Iran's nuclear programme a "regional security concern."
It noted that Bushehr, like Fukushima, is in an earthquake
zone. But Iran does not need to fear a tsunami of the size that
knocked out the electricity and back-up cooling systems at
Fukushima, as Bushehr is not located by an ocean.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)