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Iran says fire at Natanz nuclear facility caused significant damage

Natanz Nuclear Facility (Hamed Saber/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A fire last week at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran caused significant damage, an Iranian nuclear official said on July 5 in a new assessment of the incident, adding that it could slow down the development and production of advanced centrifuges in the medium term.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying various devices had been damaged or completely destroyed in the July 3 fire.

Kamalvandi added that Iran will replace the building damaged in the fire with a bigger one “that has more advanced equipment.”

Kamalvandi initially said the fire at the Natanz facility in central Iran caused no damage to “current activities of this complex.” He said it affected an above-ground building described as an industrial shed.

Natanz is the Islamic republic’s main uranium-enrichment center located some 250 kilometers south of Tehran and includes facilities built under some 7.6 meters of concrete to offer protection from air strikes.

The site is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran’s top security body said on July 3 the cause of the incident had been determined, but it declined to release details, citing security reasons.

There has been speculation of a possible act of sabotage as Iranian officials struggled to explain what happened.

Iranian officials have not cited a specific country in connection with the incident, but two official notes published in IRNA and other Iranian media warned that any signs of crossing a red line by the United States and Israel must be considered in the “strategy for dealing with the new situation.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz was asked on July 5 whether Israel played any role in the Natanz fire.

“Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us,” Gantz said on Army Radio on July 5. He said Israel’s long-standing policy is not to allow Iran access to its nuclear capabilities. “That’s the decent thing to do, and it should end there.”

Israel has said for years that it is “confident” that Iran’s nuclear program is being pursued militarily with the goal of acquiring an atomic bomb. Iran has consistently denied the allegation.

The fire at the Natanz site comes amid other fires and accidents at its petrochemical complexes, regional power plants, and infrastructure.

Two fresh incidents occurred on July 4 — one at an Iranian power station in the southwestern city of Ahvaz and the other at a petrochemical plant near the port of Bandar Imam Khomeini.

The incidents occurred less than a week after 19 people were killed in an explosion at a medical clinic in the north of the capital, Tehran, which an official said was caused by a gas leak.

It also follows an explosion on June 25 at a gas-storage facility near the Parchin military base east of Tehran.