TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran said Sunday that it plans to build a second nuclear reactor with Russia’s help and that at least two other European states have expressed interest in such a project, brushing aside U.S. accusations that the Islamic state wants to build atomic weapons.

Russia is building Iran’s first nuclear reactor, which was begun by West Germany but interrupted during the 1979 Islamic revolution. Damage caused to the nearly completed facility in Bushehr during Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq also led to the postponement of its planned inauguration from 2003 to August 2006.

Despite the delays and the project’s $800 million cost, Iranian nuclear officials say they want Russia to build more nuclear reactors to help generate greater amounts of electricity.

The comments Sunday reflect Iran’s determination to push ahead with its nuclear program despite U.S. and international concerns that it seeks to develop nuclear weapons.

The United States has been lobbying for the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran’s nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions. Tehran denies seeking to develop weapons.

Asadollah Sabouri, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, did not say when construction might begin but insisted Russia was obligated to build more than one nuclear reactor under a 1992 agreement between the two countries.

“We have contracts with Russia to build more nuclear reactors. No number has been specified but definitely our contract with Russia is to build more than one nuclear power plant,” Sabouri said, adding that Tehran has carried out several studies and technical reports for the construction of new facilities.

Despite U.S. pressure, Russia has been reluctant to abandon the nuclear reactor refit project at Bushehr, a coastal town in southern Iran.

The spokesman for Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Nikolai Shingaryov, told The Associated Press by telephone that he was unaware of contracts for Russia to help build any more reactors. He said the two countries have held discussions on building a second one, as called for in the 1992 agreement, but an actual contract would be needed to begin construction.

Sabouri said later that Russia will build a second reactor in Bushehr and that Iran is studying other sites here for more possible reactors. Most areas in Iran are prone to earthquakes, restricting choices for setting up nuclear facilities.

He also said at least two European countries had expressed interest in the projects, but refused to name them.

“They have given us documents expressing their readiness to join the projects. We welcome them. My message to the Europeans is that we have to pass the paperwork stage and go for binding contracts as soon as possible,” he said.

Iran insists it is only pursuing nuclear technology to produce electricity.

“By 2021, Iran’s electricity consumption will reach 56,000 megawatts and we need to have capability to produce 70,000 megawatts of electricity. Some 7,000 megawatts, about 10 percent, will be met through nuclear power plants,” Sabouri said.

Sabouri said the first Bushehr plant is expected to be operational by August 2006. It had initially been scheduled to open in 2003, but Sabouri said repairing damage from the eight-year war with neighboring Iraq, meeting safety regulations and redesigning the reactor has taken longer than expected.

Sabouri said the Bushehr complex has the capacity to house at least four nuclear reactors.

During the Iran-Iraq war, work on a second nuclear reactor in Bushehr was partly completed before it sustained heavy damage during fighting. Sabouri said it was unfeasible to repair and rebuild that facility and Iran planned to construct a new reactor next to it.

Another possible site for building new nuclear reactors would be Darkhovein, a city close to the Arvand River in Khuzestan Province, southwestern Iran, Sabouri added.

He also said Russia must provide Iran with nuclear fuel by the end of 2005 at the latest, or the Bushehr plant’s inauguration will be delayed.

Tehran and Moscow have agreed to return the spent nuclear fuel to Russia.

“There is no ambiguity on returning the spent fuel. The Iranian government has already made the decision to return the spent fuel back to Russia. What we haven’t agreed on with Russia is the expenses,” Sabouri said.

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