MOSCOW, March 24 (JTA) — Iran has made a first advance payment to Moscow for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Islamic republic, according to Russia’s deputy nuclear power minister. Since last year, Moscow has been planning and building the facility that will house a nuclear reactor at Bandar-e Bushehr, an Iranian city on the Persian Gulf. In recent days, Iran made the first payment toward the cost of building the reactor, a move slated to begin in mid-1998. The cost of building the entire facility has been estimated at $800 million by Russia’s Nuclear Power Ministry. Russian sales of nuclear technology to Iran have angered Israel and the United States, which say Iran intends to use the Russian technology to make nuclear weapons. Moscow has rejected the accusations, saying that the technology could only be used for civilian purposes. During his first official visit to Russia earlier this month, Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu sought to prevent Russian transfers of nuclear technology to Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov downplayed the significance of the move during Netanyahu’s visit, saying that Russia was selling Iran “light-water reactors identical to those supplied by the United States to North Korea.” With Russia’s nuclear industry facing a severe financial crisis, the country’s nuclear energy minister said earlier this year that he wants to increase exports of nuclear technology.
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