Iran is to test its much-delayed first nuclear power plant as it presses on with its atomic drive despite international sanctions.

Russian nuclear agency chief Sergei Kiriyenko, who is visiting Iran for the 'pre-commissioning', said construction of the plant at the Gulf port of Bushehr was now complete.

‘The construction stage of the nuclear power plant is over, we are now in the pre-commissioning stage, which is a combination of complex procedures,’ Mr Kiriyenko said.

Iran and Russia will also announce a date for the plant to go operational, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

The test operation at the 1,000-megawatt plant will involve virtual fuel, not nuclear fuel rods, officials have said.

Russia took over construction at Bushehr in 1994 but completion of the plant was delayed for a number of reasons, particularly Western accusations that Iran's nuclear programme is cover for a weapons drive.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has been informed by Tehran that the loading of the fuel into the reactor is scheduled to take place only during the second quarter of 2009.

The fuel, supplied by Moscow, is currently under IAEA seal.