DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's first nuclear power plant at Bushehr is expected to shut down in the next few days for an annual refueling outage, the IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.
Built near the Gulf coast city of Bushehr, the plant had been scheduled to shut in mid January. But the outage was delayed because cold weather meant there was not enough gas available for other power plants to compensate for the loss of nuclear output, a spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization told the state news agency IRNA.
The spokesman said that the refueling process usually takes about one month.
Iran's oil minister warned before winter set in that the country faced a serious gas supply crisis which would force it to burn costly and contaminating oil products, such as fuel oil and diesel.
Iran began building the 1,000-megawatt Bushehr plant in the mid-1970s, in the hope of reducing its heavy reliance on hydrocarbons, but it took over three decades to complete.
The West suspects Iran is seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons, behind the facade of a civilian atomic energy program, but Bushehr is not considered a major proliferation risk.
The Islamic Republic rejects allegations that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, insisting its atomic program is limited to power generation.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren; Editing by Mark Heinrich)