(WASHINGTON) -- Iran celebrated the official opening of the nation's first nuclear power plant Monday, a worrisome milestone for Western critics of the Iranian nuclear program.
Iranian and Russian officials came together in a ceremony for the formal launch of the long-delayed facility, the first nuclear plant in the Middle East, in the southern port city of Bushehr on Monday, Iranian state news said. The plant has been under construction by a Russian company for nearly two decades.
"The launch of Iran's first nuclear plant is a demonstration of self-belief and perseverance to defend sovereignty," Iran's Atomic Energy Organization chief Fereydounn Abbasi said, according to a report by Iran Press TV.
Abbasi said that the facility is currently running at 40 percent of its capacity and won't reach full capacity – 1,000 megawatts – until December.
Though the U.S. has publicly supported Iran's quest for a peaceful nuclear power program at Bushehr, some U.S. officials have said the civilian program could be used as a cover for a nuclear weapons program at other sites.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the official opening of the Bushehr plant was still "troubling" since Iran is now the only country in the world with an operating nuclear reactor that has not ratified the international Convention on Nuclear Safety.
The head of the International Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said at the start of a five-day U.N. meeting that the organization is "increasingly concerned" about Iran's nuclear program and that Iran was still not providing the agency "necessary cooperation" with its nuclear program.
Iran has maintained its nuclear ambitions are limited to strictly peaceful power plants.
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