Iran has firmly rejected allusions to the possibility of a radiation leak from its nuclear power plant in Bushehr following last week’s earthquake, hoping to silence its powerful critics who could otherwise cite the calamity to boost their campaign against its atomic programme.
“Bushehr nuclear power plant has been constructed to withstand an eight Richter magnitude earthquake near the plant,” said Mohammad Ahmadian, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI).
Mr. Ahmadian told Iran’s Press TV that the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) “has been designed based on the most advanced and strict international regulations”. He said the Nuclear Safety System Center, which works under the supervision of the IAEA, has overseen the safety aspects of the power plant during its construction.
The remarks follow the anxiety expressed by the six- nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding the safety of the plant following the quake on Tuesday, which killed 37 people.
An emergency meeting held in Riyadh on Sunday urged Iran to ensure the safety of its nuclear plants. The quake has caused a “great deal of concern among GCC countries and the international community”, said Abullatif Al Zayani, the grouping’s secretary general. Mr. Zayani said the IAEA should “send a specialised technical team to inspect the Bushehr nuclear plant and investigate potential damage”. The aftershocks were felt in the UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. The official from the GCC, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait as member countries, said it had “previously warned [Iran] against the danger of the nuclear reactor of Bushehr and the possible nuclear leak and its harmful effect on the environment in the Gulf”.
In his riposte, Mr. Ahmadian made two observations. First, the magnitude of the earthquake was 6.1 on the Richter scale, which was below the tolerance threshold level of the power plant. Second, the epicentre of the quake was nearly 100 km from the facility, which was therefore less impacted by the tremors. “It is natural that the quake would not create any problems for the Bushehr NPP” said Mr. Ahmadian. He said the plant contained in-built systems to disconnect it from the national grid. A strong quake would also trigger a mechanism for an automatic shutdown of the plant.
The 1000 MW power facility began operating to its full capacity in 2012 under IAEAsupervision. The development of the Bushehr complex has had a chequered history. Work on the facility commenced before the Iranian revolution, but construction ground to a halt after 1979. The Russians later joined the project in 1995, but construction was speeded up only 12 years later under a revised contract.
The facility has successfully weathered the Stuxnet cyber- attack when a virus, suspected of being jointly developed by Israel and the U.S. had targeted its computers.