News & Politics

Another 'Accident' at Iran Nuke Site

Working at a nuclear facility in Iran is hazardous to your health.

Following a huge explosion at an underground site in the mountains east of Tehran last Friday — a site suspected of harboring secret nuclear research — the AP reports that fire and an explosion hit the Natanz nuclear facility yesterday. U.S. analysts believe the site was a new centrifuge production plant.

Either Iranian scientists are unlucky or incompetent, or someone is targeting the Iranian nuclear program and trying to eliminate it piece by piece.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to downplay the fire, calling it an “incident” that only affected an under-construction “industrial shed,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said. However, both Kamalvandi and Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi rushed after the fire to Natanz, which has been targeted in sabotage campaigns in the past.

Kamalvandi did not identify what damaged the building, though Natanz governor Ramazanali Ferdowsi said a “fire” had struck the site, according to a report by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency. Authorities offered no cause for the blaze, though Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency published a commentary addressing the possibility of sabotage by enemy nations such as Israel and the U.S. following other recent explosions in the country.

It should be noted that these facilities routinely use extremely volatile chemicals and gasses which, unless handled properly, can cause a tragedy. But the coincidence of two Iranian nuclear sites being hit by fire and explosions within a matter of days leads to the inescapable conclusion that these may very well not be accidents, but deliberate efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.

If the fire did, indeed, target a centrifuge manufacturing facility, that could set back Iranian efforts to build a bomb by several months, maybe a year. These are the advanced centrifuges that President Obama allowed the Iranians to develop in small numbers in the nuclear deal. The Iranians never paid any attention to that part of the deal and were building the centrifuges as fast as possible. The Stuxnet virus took out hundreds of them They are three times more efficient at enriching uranium than the old ones, meaning they could, with enough of the new centrifuges, enrich enough bomb-grade uranium to build a weapon in a matter of weeks, not months.

This is certainly reason enough to go after the centrifuge facility if true.

The site of the fire corresponds to a newly opened centrifuge production facility, said Fabian Hinz, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. He said he relied on satellite images and a state TV program on the facility to locate the building, which sits in Natanz’s northwest corner.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security similarly said the fire struck the production facility. His institute previously wrote a report on the new plant, identifying it from satellite pictures while it was under construction and later built.

Iranian nuclear officials did not respond to a request for comment about the analysts’ comments. However, any damage to the facility would be a major setback, said Hinz, who called the fire “very, very suspicious.”

These facilities are probably among the most closely guarded in Iran. Penetrating them would be daring, indeed. I doubt whether the Mossad or the CIA have invisibility cloaks, so the most likely scenario would be that one or both agencies turned an employee of the facilities who carried out the sabotage.

It’s fanciful of course, and the first place the Iranians will look for traitors is among their own people. But however it was done, if it was done, you have to admire the chutzpah in carrying it out.

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