Natanz | International

‘Suspicious’ blackout hits Iran nuclear site

In this March 30, 2005 picture, the Iranian nuclear research centre of Natanz, is pictured 270 km south of Tehran.   | Photo Credit: AFP

Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power on Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.

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

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, stopped short of directly blaming anyone for the incident. Details remained few about what happened early on 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 West Asia.

“To thwart the goals of this terrorist movement, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to seriously improve nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive sanctions on the other hand,” Mr. Salehi said, according state TV.

He added: “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasises the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism.”

Austin lands in Israel

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

Power at Natanz had been cut across the facility, comprised of above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls, civilian nuclear programme spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television.

“We still do not know the reason for this electricity outage and have to look into it further,” Mr. Kamalvandi said. “Fortunately, there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem.”

Asked by the state TV correspondent if it was a “technical defect or sabotage,” Mr. Kamalvandi declined to comment.

‘Sabotage, infiltration’

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian Parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious,” raising concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration.” He said lawmakers were pursuing details of the incident as well.

Natanz was built largely underground to withstand enemy airstrikes. It became a flashpoint for Western fears about Iran’s nuclear programme in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuges facility at the site.

 

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 8:45:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/accident-strikes-irans-natanz-nuclear-facility-says-official/article34294358.ece

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