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Explosion at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian building damaged by a fire at Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 250 km south of Tehran

Image Credit: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP

Six days ago near the Parchin military complex, a mysterious explosion occurred. The Iranian authorities today reported another explosion and a blaze, this time striking the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. Natanz is located around 250 km south of Tehran, and is considered to be the largest uranium enrichment facility. There were no reports of casualties or contamination.

The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi described it as an incident that affected one of the industrial sheds that was under construction. The AEOI tried to downplay the severity of the accident. It is not the first time that this nuclear facility was sabotaged.

BBC Persian also reported that hours before the explosion was reported, a group referred to as ‘Cheetahs of the Homeland’, claimed that they attacked the nuclear facility. This group was never heard of by Iran experts, and they claim that they are members of Iran’s security forces who oppose Iranian’s government. BBC could not verify the claim made by the group about the attack.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Satellite (NOAA), revealed that the fire occurred at around 2am local time in the northwest side of the facility. The flames was bright enough to be detected by satellites. Mr Kamalvandi told Iranian media,

‘There were no fatalities and no damage was done to the ongoing activities at the complex’.

‘As the complex is not active, there is no concern about (radioactive) contamination. A team of experts of the AEOI are at the site investigating the reasons behind the incident,’ he said.

The governor of the city of Natanz, described it as a fire, and said that firefighters and rescue teams were deployed.

Contrary to what Iran sources said, Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, said that the location of the ‘accident’ looks like a newly opened centrifuge production facility.

Natanz facility has 3 underground halls holding thousands of centrifuges. Uranium hexafluoride gas is fed into these centrifuges to obtain the isotope, Uranium-235 (U-235). Low- enriched Uranium is used as a fuel for nuclear power plants. This type of fuel usually requires 3-4% of concentrated U-235. To create nuclear weapons, it requires 90% of concentrated U-235.

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