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Aug 13 (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it will begin loading nuclear fuel rods into the reactor at Bushehr, Iran's first atomic power station, on Aug 21, an irreversible step marking the start-up of the plant.
The West suspects Tehran of seeking to produce its own nuclear bomb and has been critical of Russia's involvement in building Iran's first nuclear power plant. Russia says it is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons programme.
Here are some important facts about Bushehr:
* The Bushehr plant is on the Gulf coast of southwest Iran. It is Iran's first nuclear power plant. * The Bushehr nuclear facility is associated with the city of the same name, but is actually located near Halileh about 12 km (8 miles) south of Bushehr proper. The site is also the location of Iran's Nuclear Energy College.
* Construction of two pressurised water nuclear reactors began in 1974 with the help of German contractor Siemens and French scientists. The Bushehr I reactor was 85 percent complete and the Bushehr II reactor was partially complete prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
* With the fall of the shah in the revolution, the project was halted. The site was then damaged during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and equipment was looted.
* The project was later revived with Russian help but construction ran into repeated delays blamed by Russia on problems with receiving payment from Iran. Current plans are for one reactor to be launched.
* Bushehr will have an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Iran, the world's No. 5 oil producer, has said it wants to build a network of nuclear power plants with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts by 2020 to enable it to export more of its bountiful oil and gas.
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS: * Russia said in January 2010 it would finish building the Bushehr plant this year. * Russian officials said in February that testing of the leak-tight enclosure system had been completed. This system would prevent the release of radiation into the environment in the event of any failure in the primary circuit, as well as protecting primary equipment from external impacts.
* Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the start-up in March 2010, but visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said such a decision would be "premature" without Iranian assurances on its uranium enrichment programme, which the West fears is aimed at producing atomic weapons.
* Iran has received nuclear fuel for Bushehr from Russia and will be obligated by contract to return all spent fuel rods to Russia, an arrangement that eased U.S. concern Iran could reprocess the material into weapons-grade plutonium.
* Switching on the Bushehr plant could still dismay some in the United States, Israel and Europe who are deeply suspicious of the Islamic Republic's development of nuclear expertise and its ultimate nuclear intentions.
Sources: Reuters/World Nuclear News (For main story please click on )) (Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Mark Heinrich)