An “incident” damaged an under-construction building Thursday near‘s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, though it did not affect its centrifuge operations or cause any release of radiation, a spokesman said.
The affected building, described as an “industrial shed,” was above ground and not part of the enrichment facility itself, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, which has been targeted in sabotage campaigns in the past.
Outside experts, however, said a building seriously damaged in the fire appeared to be a newly constructed centrifuge construction facility. The state-run IRNA news agency quoted Kamalvandi as saying there was “no need for concern” over the incident.
Fire near underground nuclear enrichment facility: Iran downplays ‘incident’
Iranian officials downplayed the incident – the third prominent industrial accident in the country in recent days – though the BBC’s Farsi service said it received an email before the news of the fire was made public from a purported dissident group taking credit for what it said was an attack.
US satellite data showed an explosion or fire large enough to be detected from space breaking out at a building above the underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in central Isfahan province just after 2am.
Read more: US-Iran nuclear deal: Ball back in US court
Iran’s top security body said Friday it had determined the cause of an “accident” at a nuclear site but declined to release details, citing security reasons. “Investigations by relevant bodies have accurately determined the cause of the accident at… Natanz nuclear complex,” said a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, referring to one of the country’s main uranium enrichment plants.
“Due to certain security concerns the cause and details of this accident will be announced at the proper time,” state news agency IRNA quoted Keyvan Khosravi as saying.
The Islamic republic’s nuclear body said the incident happened Thursday at a warehouse under construction at the complex in central Iran, saying it caused no casualties or radioactive pollution.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization gave no further details, but Natanz governor Ramezan-Ali Ferdowsi told the Tasnim news agency that a fire had broken out at the site.
Footage later played on state media showed a brick building lined with ventilators with parts of its roof apparently blown off and the surrounding ground littered with debris. An image released by the AEOI appeared to show scorch marks and a door blasted from its hinges.
“There are physical and financial damages and we are investigating to assess,” Kamalvandi told Iranian state television. “Furthermore, there has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site. Thank God, the site is continuing its work as before.”
Iran warns its arch-foes Israel and United States
Hours after the announcement on Thursday, IRNA published an editorial warning Iran’s arch-foes against hostile actions, saying that unnamed Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was behind the incident.
“Hours after the announcement, Iran’s state news agency IRNA published an editorial warning that ‘if there are signs of hostile countries crossing Iran’s red lines in any way, especially the Zionist regime (Israel) and the United States, https://t.co/9fIIPk1FOa
— Alireza Nader علیرضا نادر (@AlirezaNader) July 2, 2020
“If there are signs of hostile countries crossing Iran’s red lines in any way, especially the Zionist Regime (Israel) and the United States, Iran’s strategy to confront the new situation must be fundamentally reconsidered,” the agency said.
Iran’s nuclear body has yet to provide an explanation for the cause of the incident, which came six days after an explosion near a military complex in Parchin area southeast of Tehran, and rocked the Iranian capital. Authorities blamed that blast on “leaking gas tanks”.
Repeated cases of nuclear ‘incidents’ in Iran
Parchin is suspected of having hosted conventional explosion tests with nuclear applications, which the Islamic republic denies.
Tehran announced in May last year it would progressively suspend certain commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, unilaterally abandoned by the United States in 2018 followed by the reimposition of biting sanctions.
Since the US unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018, the IAEA says Iran has been using Natanz to enrich uranium to about 4.5% purity, above the terms of the nuclear deal but below the weapons-grade threshold. It also has conducted tests on advanced centrifuges, according to the UN atomic agency. However, Tehran has always denied its nuclear programme has any military dimension.
Read more: Iran nuclear deal: How to save it?
Thursday’s fire followed an explosion last Friday that rattled Iran’s capital and came from an area in the eastern mountains that analysts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. Iran has blamed the blast on a gas leak in what it describes a “public area”.
Iran: Powerful explosion kills 13 at Tehran clinic https://t.co/L8DxsG3dnw
— Gulf News (@gulf_news) June 30, 2020
Last Tuesday Iranian officials said another explosion, this one at at medical clinic in northern Tehran, left 19 people dead. That blast was also blamed on a gas leak.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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