The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed.”
By AP and Paul Shindman, World Israel News
A fire and an explosion struck a building above Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, a site that U.S.-based analysts identified as a new centrifuge production plant, early Thursday morning.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (IAEO) had sought to downplay the fire at the top-secret nuclear facility, where it is widely believed the Islamic Republic is enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons, calling it an “incident.”
IAEO spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told IRNA earlier in the day that the “accident happened Thursday morning at the open site of Natanz facility under construction but caused no human casualties, nor has it disrupted the ongoing activities at the site,” adding that “there are no fears of nuclear pollution.”
A report by the state-run IRNA news agency said a “pre-fabricated steel framework of Natanz open site has broken.”
However, “In today’s case, there is no doubt. This is an operational site of advanced centrifuges that the Iranians are trying to enhance with the purpose of shortening the time to enrich uranium enrichment to military grade, if they wish,” the Israeli news website Intelli Times tweeted.
The latest incident occurred less than a week after a massive explosion in the mountains rocked Iran’s capital city Tehran.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran was continuing to stonewall the International Atomic Energy Agency – the UN watchdog that monitors international violations of nuclear treaties.
“The IAEA filed a report that made very clear that the Iranians have failed to allow access to two sites that are suspected of potentially having engaged in nuclear activity related to their previous programs, programs that predate the JCPOA,” Pompeo said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.
“The Iranians continue to deny access to the IAEA,” Pompeo said. “I hope the Iranians will change their mind to allow full IAEA unfettered, repeated, consistent access. To date, they’ve chosen not to do so.”
The Natanz site is located about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, and is known as Iran’s main enriched uranium production facility. The Iranians had previously lied about its existence before a dissident opposition member in 2002 revealed details of the Natanz plant, which is reportedly buried underground and protected by a 2.5 meter (8 foot) thick reinforced concrete barrier.
The site is where the alleged Stuxnet cyber attack took place, which damaged thousands of centrifuges that purify uranium into weapons-grade material.
Although it sits on the world’s fourth-largest known oil reserves, Iranian leaders have invested tens of billions of dollars in what they claim is a need for the “peaceful” use of nuclear power, while at the same time developing long-range ballistic missiles and calling for the “total annihilation” of Israel.