Iran says ‘sabotage’ caused blast at Natanz nuclear site

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Sunday that “sabotage” was the cause of an explosion that damaged the Natanz nuclear facility last month.

“Security investigations confirm this was sabotage and what is certain is that an explosion took place in Natanz,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA. “But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course.”

Iran said after the incident on 2 July that it had determined its cause but declined to release details due to “security concerns”.

Natanz governor Ramezan-Ali Ferdowsi said a fire had broken out at the site, but the country’s atomic agency said it caused no casualties or radioactive pollution.

Iranian officials said the fire had caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges. The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Saturday he would make his first trip to Tehran in that role on Monday to pressure Iran to grant inspectors access to two suspected former atomic sites.

The IAEA suspects activities possibly related to developing nuclear weapons were carried out in the early 2000s at these sites. Iran insists its nuclear programme has no military dimensions.

The Islamic republic resumed uranium enrichment at the Natanz complex, in central Iran, in September last year.

At the time of the fire, IRNA published an editorial warning Iran’s arch-foes against hostile actions, saying unnamed Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was behind it.

The incident came six days after an explosion near a military complex rocked Tehran. That blast in the Parchin area south-east of the Iranian capital was due to “leaking gas tanks”, the defence ministry said.

Uranium enrichment resumed after the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from an international accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Iranian officials said on Sunday that Grossi’s visit was not related to the US push at the UN security council to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, state TV reported.