Russia plans to start up the nuclear reactor at Iran's Bushehr power plant in March 2010 to coincide with the Iranian New Year, two sources closely involved with the project told Reuters.
The sources, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, both said that Russia had ordered the plant be ready for operation by Iranian New Year, known as Nowruz, in the second half of March.
'We have been given the task of launching the plant by Iranian New Year,'said one of the sources. 'There is still a lot of work to do.'
Another source confirmed that Russia had ordered the plant to be ready by the Iranian New Year and said that testing work at the plant was going well.
Diplomats say Russia uses Bushehr -- and major arms contracts -- as a lever in relations with Tehran, which is suspected by the United States and other Western powers of seeking to build a nuclear weapon.
Russia in November said technical issues would prevent its engineers from starting up the Bushehr reactor by the year-end. Russian officials had previously said the plant would be started up in 2009.
Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko is due to visit the Bushehr plant on Monday, a day after Tehran announced plans to build 10 uranium enrichment plants.
The United States, which previously criticised Russia's involvement in the Bushehr project, has dropped its opposition and now says the station removes any need for Iran to have its own enrichment programme.
Russia says the plant is purely civilian and cannot be used for any weapons programme as it will come under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision. Iran will have to return all spent fuel rods to Russia.
Moscow agreed to build the station in 1995 on the site of a plant begun in the 1970s by German firm Siemens. This project was disrupted by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The contract to build the plant is a state secret, though it is estimated to be worth about $1 billion.