Tehran, 10 Jan. (AKI) Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad has just announced "great nuclear celebrations" to take place in February to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. Despite the efforts of the international community and two UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iran to immediately suspend sensitive nuclear work and in particular uranium enrichment - which can be used to make atomic weapons - Tehran appears doggedly determined to pursue its programme and speedily achieve its atomic ambitions.
The Iranian atomic dream began in the 1970s when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was Iran's Shah. This ambition gained new momentum in the 1990s after a long interruption due to the Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 war with Iraq. It is at the end of this war, which killed over a million people that Tehran's ayatollahs embraced once again the idea of providing Iran with nuclear technology both for military and civilian purposes.
Feasibility studies warnings against building a nuclear plant in Bushehr were ignored and the media was not allowed by state censorship to inform the population of the seismic risks.
In the mid 1970s, Iran's Monarch asked an international consortium directed by German company Siemens to build a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, after asking international scientific institutions to carry out feasibility studies. One of these researches carried out by Stanford University in California highlighted the fact that the Bushehr peninsula was crossed by a very active seismic fault and strongly advised against building a nuclear power plant in the area.
After villages had been destroyed by an earthquake in the 1940s, no one lived in the area of Hallieh, where the Bushehr plant is being built.
Bushehr lies over the remains of the port of Siraf, destroyed by an earthquake on the 11th century.
In the 1970s, like today, feasibility studies warning against a plant in Bushehr were ignored and the media was not allowed by state censorship to inform the population of the risks and open a debate on the government's atomic plans.
Siemens, which in 1977 started work to build the first nuclear power plant in Bushehr, had promised to carry out its own study on the geological nature of Hallieh - a promise which was not kept unless the details of the research were not revealed to the public.
The 1979 revolution forced the German company to leave Iran and the construction of the power plant was suspended.
In 1980, an Iraqi air raid destroyed what had been build of the plant.
In 1989, after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the then president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani once again embraced the project to build the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
In 1993, Rafsanjani charged a commission formed by Iranian university professors to carry out a new feasibility study on the project. Two years later, the commission submitted a detailed study which came to the same conclusions as the one carried out by the Stanford University panel in which the Iranian scientists advised authorities against the plan as "an earthquake in this region is likely to measure more than 7 degrees on the Richter scale."
Parts of the report were distributed in 2005 at an international congress in Kobe, Japan, on seismic risks and nuclear plants.
In 2000, when reformist president Mohammad Khatami was in power, a group of scientists expressed its own reservations on the project in a detailed report warning of the risks involved in building a plant in Bushehr "a city lying one of the most active seismic faults of the country."
The scientists warned the president also against the Russian technology employed to build the plant which they judged to be "inadequate" and "without the security measures to safeguard security in case of earthquakes."
In their report, the Iranian scientists also stressed the threat posed by a potential accident on neighbouring countries. "An accident of any kind would involve 40 percent of the populations of countries sharing the Persian Gulf waters as well as many countries in the region like Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, Qatar, Yemen, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia are at risk of potential radiations."
A look at the future projects of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad in the nuclear field include the construction of seven other nuclear power plants - two of which will overlook the Persian Gulf. The first should be built on the oil area of Darkhoi’in, along the Karoun river, and another on the peninsula of Jash, in front of Oman.
Scientists warned against the Russian technology used to build the plant which they judged to be "inadequate",
"without the security safeguards against earthquakes.
The need to have nuclear technology coincides with Iran's need to become a regional power and guarantee the survival of a regime which does not enjoy the support of the majority of the population.
Many in the Islamic Republic believe that if Iran enters what Ahmadi Nezhad describes as the "club of the great", referring to countries in possession of nuclear technology, the US will have to abandon its ambition to promote a 'regime change' in Iran.
The debate over Iran's nuclear programme mostly interests the West and Israel which fear a change in the current military balances in the region.
An Islamic Republic with the atomic bomb would threaten Israel and force Arab governments in the region to recognize Iran's supremacy.
But in Iran and other countries in the Persian Gulf, the construction of nuclear power plants which are allegedly for civilian use, like the one being built in the port city of Bushehr with the aid of Russian technology is much more worrying than sensitive nuclear work like the transformation of uranium into Uf6 gas in Isfahan or the underground tunnels of Natanz, where the gas is transformed into enriched uranium through cascade centrifuges.
Behind this widespread fear is the fact that Iran is considered a highly seismic country and thus prone to devastating earthquakes.
"Fifty percent of the country is at high seismic risk and the other 50 percent also faces risks", the president of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology (INGV) Enzo Boschi recently told Adnkronos International (AKI).
The website of the Tehran-based International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology (IIEES) says that "the Iranian territory has long been considered one of the most active seismic areas worldwide where frequent earthquakes with significant destructive capacity cause significant human and material losses."
The website also refers to the area of Bushehr, where the first Iranian nuclear power plant should be completed in March this year, as one of the areas in the country most at risk of an earthquake. "The seismic fault area of Mount Zagros starts in Yazd (in central Iran) and ends in Bushehr (in the south)", says a research by IIEES.
Dozens of earthquakes have been recorded in Iran in 2006 two of which measures over 5 degrees of the Richter scale. In July last year, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale hit Shahre Babak in the southeastern Kerman province. There were luckily no victims as no one lived in the desert area concerned. In March 2006 another quake caused around 100 victims in southwestern Iran, hitting the cities of Boroujerd and Doroud and destroying thousands of homes.
The greatest tragedy however dates back to December 2003 when a strong quake hit the southeastern city of Bam, killing 31,000 and destroying the ancient citadel.
In a country which has registered 13 devastating quakes in the past four decades, the Bushehr plant, to be built on one of the must active seismic fault zones, is an announced tragedy.
What is surprising is the silence of those who should avoid this type of catastrophe. It is unclear why the UN atomic watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has not opposed the decision of Iranian authorities to choose Bushehr as the site to build a nuclear power plant. ENDS IRAN NUCLEAR 11107
Editor’s note: Mr. Ahmad Rafat is a veteran Iranian-Italian journalist who covered the Middle East, Iran and the Balkans for the leading Spanish newsweekly El Tiempo before joining the Italian private news agency Adnkronos International.
The above article was posted by AKI on 10 January 2007
Some editing and highlights are by IPS