This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iran says it has begun to build an underground hall near the country’s main uranium-enrichment center in Natanz in the wake of a July explosion that badly damaged a building housing centrifuges.
“It was decided to establish a more modern, wider, and more comprehensive hall in all dimensions in the heart of the mountain near Natanz,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on September 8, according to state TV.
“Of course, the work has begun,” he added.
Officials said the July 2 incident at the Natanz facility, located some 250 kilometers south of Tehran, was the result of sabotage and that it could slow the development of advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges.
An image released in the aftermath of the incident and satellite images released abroad showed significant damage at a building where centrifuges were assembled.
Iran has said it had found those who were involved in the alleged sabotage but that details of the issue would be released at a later date.
Some analysts have suggested that Israel or the United States could have been behind the blast as part of a shadow war aimed at setting back Tehran’s nuclear program.
Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog have been visiting Natanz, which includes underground facilities, to monitor uranium-enrichment activities since Tehran and world powers signed a nuclear agreement in 2015.
Iran resumed uranium enrichment at Natanz in September 2019 in response to the United States withdrawing from the international nuclear deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium continues to increase and now stands at more than 10 times the limit set down in the 2015 nuclear deal.