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Iran N-site 'damaged by quakes'

Iran's only power-producing nuclear reactor was damaged by recent earthquakes, with long cracks appearing in at least one section of the structure, two foreign diplomats say.

Iran is under UN sanctions for refusing to stop nuclear programmes that could be used to make weapons, even as it insists it has no such plans.

Its Bushehr nuclear plant is not considered a proliferation threat. But some nations are concerned about how safe it is. Iran has refused to join an international nuclear safety convention and persistent technical problems have shut the plant for lengthy periods since it started up in September 2011 after years of construction delays.

Reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency in February and May said the agency had been informed by the Iranians that the facility was shut down, without specifying why.

Kuwait and other Arab countries are only a few hundred miles away from the Bushehr reactor, which is on the Persian Gulf coast, and are particularly worried about the safety of the Russian-built reactor. Saudi Arabia mentioned Bushehr as a safety concern today at a session of the Vienna-based IAEA's 35-nation board.

But Iran insists the plant is technically sound and built to withstand all but the largest earthquakes unscathed. Officials in Tehran reassured the international community after the quakes struck in April and early May that the facility was undamaged.

The diplomats referred to recent restricted information gathered from the site in questioning that assertion. They told The Associated Press that one concrete section of the structure developed cracks several metres long as a result of the quakes on April 9 and April 16.

Both diplomats are from member countries of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's nuclear programme. One of the two said that the cracks seen were not in the vicinity of the reactor core, which contains highly radioactive fuel.

Asked about the reports, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, said, "I know nothing about Bushehr."

Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that has not signed on to the 75-nation nuclear safety convention, which was created after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. A moderate quake struck near Bushehr May 6, preceded by two more powerful shocks in April including one of 7.7 magnitude. Iranian officials say the Bushehr plant, south of Tehran, was built to withstand quakes up to magnitude 8.

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