TEHRAN, Iran – Iran plans to build at least one more nuclear power plant despite international concern over its atomic program, the country’s top nuclear negotiator said Monday.
Ali Larijani said he did not expect the plan to affect upcoming nuclear talks with Europe.
“It is part of meeting our electricity needs; it is not a secret issue,” he told a news conference.
“We plan to construct two more nuclear power plants,” Larijani told reporters, adding that the projects would be open to international bidding.
State-run television reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cabinet ministers had decided Sunday night to build a reactor “based on domestic technology” in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran.
It was unclear whether Larijani was describing two entirely new plants Monday, or one new plant in addition to the planned Khuzestan facility.
Iranian officials could not be reached for clarification.
Khuzestan is the site of an unfinished French-built power plant where construction was halted after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Iran’s first reactor in the southern town of Bushehr is due to begin generating electricity next year. Iran said last year it would also build a second plant at Bushehr.
Iran is under intense pressure to curb its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies claim is part of an effort to produce weapons. Iran says its program is limited to generating electricity.
Parliament has asked Ahmadinejad for the construction of 20 nuclear power plants. Russia, which built the first Bushehr reactor, has offered to continue helping Iran’s nuclear program.
Larijani said Iran would put its new reactor projects up for international bidding, a sign of the country’s openness to global scrutiny.
Asked if American companies could submit an offer, he said, “Any foreign company, public or private, could purchase a share and participate in Iran’s nuclear program. This is the ultimate level of transparency in Iran’s nuclear program.”
Larijani said Iran hopes to reach a result in negotiations with Europe within several months. As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran deserves the right to build nuclear reactors, he said.
No date has been set for the resumption of Iranian talks with Britain, France and Germany, which broke off in August after Tehran restarted uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment. Enrichment can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or weapons.
Iran has said it will not consider a European proposal that its uranium enrichment be moved to Russia to ensure it cannot be secretly used for weapons.
Larijani said Monday those objections should not scuttle the upcoming negotiations.
“Iran and Europe could have a win-win game in the talks; having enrichment on our soil in Iran and assuring Europe that there will be no diversion in Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
The negotiator dismissed remarks by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published Monday that said he would support a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel has repeatedly identified Iran as its biggest threat and dismisses Tehran’s claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
“I advise you not to take it so seriously,” Larijani said of Netanyahu’s comments. “Iran is powerful enough. It is a difficult target. This is not the first time that Israelis make such comments. But it has never been taken seriously here. Those who quickly lose their temper will quickly get calm.
“Comparing Iran and Iraq is wrong. If they make such a mistake, they will add to their own problems. Attacking Iran will have a lot of consequences,” said Larijani, who is also secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Iran has frozen its enrichment program but it restarted uranium conversion – a step toward enrichment – in August. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned Iran that its nuclear program could be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions on the country.
On Saturday, Iran approved a bill that would block international inspections of its atomic facilities if it were referred to the Security Council.
“The West should not challenge Iran’s nuclear program while the United States says it will take years for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons,” Larijani said. “Iran is patient to solve the case wisely, but it does not tolerate time-wasting.”