Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz was hit by a problem on Sunday with its electric distribution network just hours after new advanced centrifuges were launched that enrich uranium faster, state television reported. It was the latest incident to hit one of Tehran’s safest places in the midst of negotiations over the fragmented nuclear deal with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, as announcing the incident.
“Kamalvandi fortunately said that the incident did not cause any human injury or pollution,” said a state TV anchor woman. “The cause of the incident is under investigation.”
The word state TV used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can also be used for “accident”.
The Athens Energy Organization in Iran, the civilian part of its nuclear program, later published a statement with the same wording as the TV report without elaborating.
Natanz was hit by a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran’s regional arch-enemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as of launching other attacks, as world powers are now negotiating with Tehran in Vienna on its nuclear deal.
Iran also blamed Israel for the assassination of a scientist who started the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. Israel has not claimed any of the attacks, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly described Iran as the biggest threat to his country in recent weeks. Israeli officials could not be reached immediately for comment Sunday.
On Saturday, Iran announced that it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injected them with the uranium gas and began its rapid spin. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuge, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1 for enrichment.
Since President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all boundaries of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapon levels of 90%. Iran continues to pursue its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, but fears that Tehran could carry out a bomb saw the world powers reach an agreement with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restricting its program and allowing International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to closely monitor its work.
On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary revolutionary guards off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion, likely from a quarry. Iran has blamed Israel for the explosion. The attack escalated into a protracted shadow war in Mideast waterways targeting shipping in the region.