EghtesadOnline: The production of enriched nuclear material is continuing as normal at Natanz nuclear facility despite the fire at one of its sheds on Thursday morning, a top official of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said.
“Since our main operations do not take place here [in the wrecked shed], our enrichment will not be affected and there will be no slowdown,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman of AEOI, said on state television, IRNA reported.
A fire broke out at the nuclear facility in the central province of Isfahan at 2 a.m. (2130 GMT) on Thursday, causing structural damage to a shed, but no casualties, according to official reports.
Kamalvandi said uranium enrichment is conducted underground, but there are sheds in the open area where other related operations are carried out.
The damaged site was inactive and did not contain any radioactive material, he added, and none of the personnel was present there.
“This was one of the sheds under construction … There were no nuclear material and … there was no contamination,” he said.
Experts are investigating the cause of the incident as well as the scale of damage to the complex, according to Kamalvandi.
He said it will take time to repair the damage and rebuild the ruined buildings, but the process of enrichment will remain unaffected.
“The statistics we will provide on the volume of enriched material in our next reports will show that our activities have not changed and are even ramping up,” he said.
The Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant is Iran’s main uranium enrichment site located in the city of the same name in Isfahan Province, some 250 kilometers south of the capital Tehran.
It is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency under the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Iran had agreed under the agreement to curb its nuclear activities in return for a sanctions relief, but scaled back its commitment after the United States withdrew and restored its sanctions in 2018 and the remaining parties failed to make up for the economic damage caused by American restrictions.
“We began producing enriched material since reducing [JCPOA] commitments and accept no limitation in terms of level and volume of enrichment,” Kamalvandi said.
The deal caps Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium at 300 kg of uranium hexafluoride enriched to a purity level of 3.67%, but he said Iran is currently exceeding both limits.
JCPOA also allowed Iran to enrich uranium at Natanz facility with just over 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, but Iran has installed new cascades of advanced centrifuges.
While Iranian security officials say there is no evidence to show that the incident was an act of intentional sabotage, some international experts do not rule out that possibility given the importance of Natanz nuclear site.
The facility had once been targeted in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged centrifuges and is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel.
The explosion a few days earlier near the Parchin military base 30 kilometers from Tehran also gives rise to the sabotage theory.
Western security services believe Tehran carried out tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago at Parchin. Iran has denied it carried out such tests.