|Iran's Atomic Energy Agency has launched an initiative to look for potential sites to build new nuclear power plants throughout the country.
Director of Iran's nuclear energy production, Ahmad Fayaz-Bakhsh, said Monday that the agency had tasked six domestic companies with the hunt, the official news agency IRNA reported late on Tuesday.
"The six companies have been given 13 months to find appropriate locations to build new atomic power plants. Construction of the plants will start after deciding their locations," he added without mentioning the number of plants to be built.
Iran's first nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr, which is being constructed in cooperation with Russia, is expected to become operational later on in 2008.
In December 2007, Russia began delivering 82 tons of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr plant, under the supervision and subject to the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The United States, Israel and their European allies allege that the enriched uranium provided by the Russians could be used to produce weapons-grade substances, and accuse Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of pursuing a military nuclear program.
Moscow, however, maintains that the fuel intended for the Bushehr plant does not exceed the uranium enrichment level achieved by Iran.
According to the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Iran enriches uranium-235 to a level of 3.7 percent. This is while nuclear arms production requires enrichment level of above 90 percent.
Although the Washington administration has pressured Russia to abandon the one-billion-dollar project, Russia continues to the work in Bushehr, maintaining that Iran is entitled to use nuclear technology for electricity generation.
The construction of the plant has been delayed for several years due to the U.N. Security Council's intervention - under U.S. pressure - in Tehran's nuclear case.
The council has imposed three rounds of sanctions resolutions against Iran, demanding the country abandon all enrichment activities.
This is while the Vienna-based IAEA has regularly conducted snap inspections of Iranian nuclear sites and has reported that all "declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."
Washington and Tel Aviv claim to be committed to diplomacy in ending the standoff with Tehran. They, however, have threatened to launch military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites.
Iran says dialogue is the only acceptable means to clarify the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. However, it has warned that should the country come under attack it would target Israel and 32 U.S. bases in the region.
The UNSC and the international community have kept silent on the U.S. and Israeli threats against Iran.