A shattered cooling pump at Iran’s only civilian nuclear-power reactor, forcing a shutdown during its initial start-up phase, has renewed safety concerns about the hybrid Russian-German power plant on the Persian Gulf coast.Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
The 1000-megawatt power plant at Bushehr combines a German- designed plant begun under the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in the 1970’s and Russian technology installed over the last decade. Safety questions have raised concern among some nuclear-power experts and in neighboring countries such as Kuwait, which is vulnerable in the event of a radiation leak since it is downwind about 170 miles (275 kilometers).
Nuclear experts cite potential safety issues due to the hybrid design, Iranian nuclear inexperience, the Islamic state’s reluctance to join international safety monitoring programs, and the unknown reliability of some of the original components.
Bushehr also sits at the junction of three tectonic plates, raising concerns that an earthquake could damage the plant and crack its containment dome, or disrupt the electrical supply needed to keep it safe, said Dr. Jassem al-Awadi, a geologist at the University of Kuwait. Bushehr was hit with a 4.6 magnitude temblor in 2002.
Winds in the Persian Gulf blow from East to West and coastal currents circle counter-clockwise, meaning Kuwait and the Saudi Arabia would feel the effects of a radiation leak at Bushehr within hours, notes Sami Alfaraj, director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies. And with the Gulf Arab states reliant for their freshwater on desalination plants that line the coast, long-term contamination of the Gulf could prove fatal.
“What are our concerns -- water and air, and these are the essence of life for everybody,” Alfaraj said in an interview. “The Iranians have said so far ‘trust us,’ and it’s quite difficult to trust them and the next thing is to trust Russian certification and it’s very difficult to trust that.”
As the Fukushima incident continues to rivet the us with concern about a catastrophic meltdown, who is raising the alarm about Bushehr?