Iran’s Natanz nuke facility hit with mysterious total blackout

Natanz Nuclear Facility (Hamed Saber/WikiCommons)
April 11, 2021

Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility suffered a mysterious total power outage on Sunday, a day after it started up new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. 

On Sunday, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) called a blackout an act of “nuclear terrorism.”

The Associated Press reported that shortly after news of the power outage broke, several Israeli news outlets reported the same claim that the underground nuclear facility was disrupted by a cyberattack. According to the Associated Press, the Israeli outlets reportedly did not provide sourcing for the cyberattack assessment, though Israeli media often have close ties with Israel’s military and intelligence community, raising the possibility that Israel was connected to the outage.

The outage comes days after U.S. and Iranian delegations arrived in Vienna, Austria to being indirect talks about returning to compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran deal in 2018 and Iran has since breached its own commitments to the deal by exceeding uranium stockpile and enrichment limits.

Israeli officials have previously warned Israel’s forces could attack Iran if the U.S. eases sanctions against Iran or rejoins Iran nuclear deal.

On Saturday, Iran announced it had spun up numerous advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, including 164 IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz. Iran also began testing its new IR-9 centrifuge, which could potentially enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation IR-1 centrifuges. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran is limited to using only IR-1s for enrichment.

It is unclear to what degree the power outage caused damage or disruption to Iran’s nuclear program.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman for the AEOI said the power was cut across the facility, the Associated Press reported.

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

The Natanz facility was previously damaged by an explosion in July, resulting in ripped-out doors, scorch marks, and a collapsed roof at a building used to assemble centrifuges. In August, Kamalvandi declared the explosion was the result of sabotage, but did not specify who may have been behind incident.

The latest incident at Natanz comes also comes as Israeli and Iranian cargo ships have suffered mysterious attacks while operating throughout Middle Eastern waterways in recent months.

On Tuesday, an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-linked ship was damaged off the coast of Yemen by a naval mine. Two weeks earlier, an Israeli ship was hit by a suspected Iranian missile attack. While neither Israel or Iran have claimed responsibility for damages caused to each other’s ships, the Associated Press and other outlets have suspected both countries are engaged in secretive tit-for-tat attacks on each other.