Iran has been accused of covering up a “very, very suspicious” explosion at an underground nuclear site.
American analysts noticed there had been a fire and an explosion at a facility in Natanz, some 200 miles from Tehran, which has since been identified as a new centrifuge production plant.
The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran admitted there had been an “incident” at the site, but insisted no one was hurt and only an “industrial shed” was affected.
The Natanz facility has been hit by sabotage attacks in the past, and Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency claimed the explosion could have been caused by foreign saboteurs.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said.
“The crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US, means that strategy…should be revised.”
It’s believed the fire broke out at 2am on Thursday morning. Iran’s atomic energy agency later released a photo showing a scorched brick building with its roof destroyed and debris on the ground.
Fabian Hinz, a California analyst specialising in missiles in the Middle East, pinpointed the location of the explosion to a newly opened “centrifuge assembly workshop” in the Natanz Uranium Enrichment plant.
The site includes underground facilities built beneath 25 feet of concrete to protect it from airstrikes. The facility uses centrifuges to spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium to about 4.5% purity – above the terms of the now-collapsed Paris Agreement, but below weapons-grade levels.
Mr Hinz said the fire at the facility is “very, very suspicious”.
“It would delay the advancement of the centrifuge technology quite a bit at Natanz,” he told MailOnline.
“Once you have done your research and development, you can’t undo that research and development. Targeting them would be very useful [for Iran’s enemies].”
Last year Iranian officials refused to allow an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to enter the Natanz facility after it tested positive for suspected traces of explosive nitrates.
In 2010 it was discovered that Natanz centrifuges had been disrupted and destroyed by the Stuxnet computer virus, believed to be a joint American-Israeli creation.
Last Friday another explosion rattled Tehran and was found to originate in its eastern mountains, in an area that international experts believe hides an underground tunnel system and missile production sites. The Iranian government blamed the blast on a gas leak.
On Tuesday, 19 people were killed in yet another explosion in northern Tehran, after a gas leak at a medical clinic.
Yoel Guzansky, a former Iran analyst for the Israeli prime minister’s office, said the series of explosions feel like “more than a coincidence”.
“Theoretically speaking, Israel, the US and others have an interest to stop this Iran nuclear clock or at least show Iran ther’s a price in going that way,” he said.
“If Iran won’t stop, we might see more accidents in Iran.”