Iran says electrical problem in atomic facility is act of ‘nuclear terrorism’

·3-min read

Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility as an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding the site.

Many Israeli media outlets offered the same assessment that a cyberattack darkened Natanz and damaged a facility that is home to sensitive centrifuges. While the reports offered no sourcing for the evaluation, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

If Israel caused the blackout, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.

It also complicates efforts by the US, Israel’s main security partner, to re-enter the atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so it can’t pursue a nuclear weapon. As news of the blackout emerged, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin landed Sunday in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.

Sunday’s incident was the latest to strike one of Tehran's most secure sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.

State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.

“Kamalvandi said fortunately the incident has not caused any human damage or contamination,” a state TV anchorwoman said. "The cause of the incident is under investigation.”

The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi also can be used for “accident.”

The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, later published a statement using the same wording as the TV report, without elaborating.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel was suspected of being behind the attack.

Iran also blamed Israel for the killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly described Iran as the major threat faced by his country in recent weeks. Israeli officials could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday.

On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

Since then-president Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.

The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.

On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen was struck by an explosion, likely from a limpet mine. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast. That attack escalated a long-running shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)