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Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility suffered a mysterious incident

Aerial image of the Natanz nuclear plant (Maxar Technologies)
Aerial image of the Natanz nuclear plant (Maxar Technologies)

Iran’s Natanz underground nuclear facility ran out of power this Sunday, a few hours after starting new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium more quickly, in an incident described by an Iranian lawmaker as a probable “sabotage” and by unidentified Western intelligence officials as a possible cyber attack.

The spokesman for the nuclear program, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told Iranian state television that the power supply to the entire facility consisting of surface workshops and underground enrichment rooms had been cut off. “We still don’t know the reason for this power outage and we have to investigate further, ”said Kamalvandi. “Fortunately, there were no casualties or damages and there is no particular pollution or problem,” he added.

The event, of which Kamalvandí did not offer details, occurred in an area of ​​the Natanz electrical distribution network, where on July 2, 2020 there was an explosion in an assembly room for advanced centrifuges. Asked by the state television correspondent whether it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.

Later, The Iranian Atomic Energy Organization published a statement in which it denounced that the uranium enrichment plant was the target of an act of “anti-nuclear terrorism”. “The Islamic Republic of Iran, while condemning this futile action, underlines the need for the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to confront this anti-nuclear terrorism,” said the head of the Iranian entity, Ali Akbar Saléhi, in a statement broadcast on state television.

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who acts as a spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s energy commission, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “strongly suspected of being sabotage or infiltration.”

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees Iran’s program, said it was “aware of media reports,” but declined to comment.

As Iranian officials investigated the blackout, many Israeli media reported that it may have been a cyberattack and that the incident could have damaged a facility housing sensitive centrifuges. The reports cited Western intelligence sources.

Centrifuges used by Iran to enrich uranium
Centrifuges used by Iran to enrich uranium

The Iranian regime continues to fail to comply with all its international commitments and yesterday from the same plant where the incident took place, today the entry into operation of new sets of modern centrifuges to more rapidly enrich the uranium whose use is prohibited by the international agreement on its nuclear program signed in 2015.

President Hasan Rohani officially inaugurated a set of 164 IR-6 and 30 IR-5 type centrifuges, installed in the Natanz complex, in central Iran, in a videoconference ceremony broadcast on state television.

News of the incident coincided with the arrival in Israel of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on a visit to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The United States, Israel’s main security partner, is trying to rejoin the 2015 atomic deal aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot get a nuclear weapon.

The Natanz plant
The Natanz plant

Natanz was built largely underground to withstand enemy air attacks. It became a hotspot for Western fears about the Iranian nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran was building its underground centrifuge facility at the site, about 200 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran.

The nuclear complex is one of the sites that is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the nuclear agreement signed in 2015 between Iran and six major powers.

To save this agreement and achieve the return to it of the United States, which withdrew in 2018, and Iran, which began to breach its commitments in 2019, meetings have been held in Vienna in recent days, which will continue next week.

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