TEHRAN, Iran -- A Iranian parliamentary committee has approved a bill requiring the government to design nuclear-powered merchant ships and provide them with nuclear fuel, an Iranian news agency reported Sunday.
The bill appears to be a symbolic gesture to bolster Tehran's argument that it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The West suspects Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons technology, a charge Tehran denies.
Nuclear-powered vessels other than warships are rare, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has said in the past that nuclear-powered merchant ships would be uneconomical.
Lawmaker Mohammad Bayatian was quoted by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying sanctions are forcing Iran to use different fuel for its oil tankers and other large vessels, to avert the need to refuel during long voyages. Some countries refuse to provide fuel to Iranian ships in line with Western sanctions.
Iran is seen to be far from a capability to build nuclear-powered ships. Iran says it is designing a nuclear submarine.
The West has raised concerns that Iran might cite submarine and other nuclear-powered vessel construction as a justification for producing weapons-grade 90 percent enriched uranium.
Nuclear submarines are powered by fuel ranging from 20 percent purity to more than 90 percent. Many U.S. submarines use nuclear fuel enriched to more than 90 percent, the same level used to build atomic bombs.
Bayatian said the bill has been approved by a parliamentary committee and will be debated in the house next week.
"Given the sanctions that enemies have imposed against our country, the bill must be enacted," he said.