Top Iran official: Power fully restored at Natanz, enrichment renewed


Ali Akbar Salehi, head of country’s atomic agency, claims enrichment at key nuclear site never stopped following blast blamed on Israel

By TOI STAFF20 April 2021, 10:42 pm  

File: The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at the opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi delivers his speech at the opening of the general conference of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria, September 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Power has been restored in Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility and uranium enrichment activities there have been renewed after a blast at the site earlier this month, the head of the country’s atomic agency said Tuesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was cited by the official IRNA news agency as saying that “the cables damaged in the accident were speedily replaced and… the main power supply to the Natanz enrichment facility [is] now connected to the grid.”

Salehi told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting that “thanks to the timely measures taken, enrichment in Natanz never stopped, even when the main power cable was cut,” according to the report.

He also reportedly said that Iran’s enemies, among them Israel, have repeatedly attempted to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, but claimed all the plots were foiled.

Iranian officials have blamed Israel for the April 11 attack at Natanz.

The report did not include any images of the enrichment activities that Salehi said had resumed.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, is shown new centrifuges and listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AFP)

His comments came as a New York Times report said Iran’s nuclear enrichment program at Natanz has slowed down due to increased security measures implemented following the recent blast.

The explosion is said to have caused considerable damage to the Natanz plant, including its various uranium-enriching centrifuges.

In response to the attack, Iran said it began enriching a small amount of uranium up to 60 percent purity at the site — its highest level ever, and a short step from weapons-grade. The UN atomic agency confirmed the enrichment, saying it was being done in an above-ground facility at Natanz.

Despite the reported damage, Iranian state TV aired footage earlier this week from what it said were regular operations at Natanz. The spot included a short interview with an unnamed worker at the site who said that the staff was working around the clock to resume uranium enrichment.

Israeli and American media have reported that a 150-kilogram bomb took out Natanz’s main and backup power supplies and caused damage setting back the enrichment process by months.

In this image made from April 17, 2021 video released by the Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, state-run TV, various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, Iran. (IRIB via AP, File)

A senior Iranian official said last Tuesday that the blast destroyed or damaged thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Alireza Zakani, the hardline head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.

The blast was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding aboveground workshops and underground enrichment halls, but Iranian officials later began calling it an attack.

Last Monday, an Iranian official acknowledged that the blast took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup. “From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television.

“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The New York Times reported that the blast was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli. The official also noted that the blast took out Natanz’s primary electrical system as well as its backup

.

A passport-style photo published by Iranian state television shows Reza Karimi, 43, whom Tehran says was behind the sabotage at Natanz on April 11 that it has blamed on Israel (video screenshot)

On Saturday, Iran state television named 43-year-old Reza Karimi as a suspect in last week’s attack, saying he had since fled the country. The report showed a passport-style photograph of a man it identified as Karimi, saying he was born in the nearby city of Kashan, Iran.

The Iranian foreign ministry accused Israel of an act of “nuclear terrorism” and vowed revenge.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but public radio reports said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources. The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been “an Israeli role” in the attack.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, last week indirectly accused Israel of attempting to scuttle talks underway in Vienna aimed at reviving a landmark nuclear agreement.

The talks are focused on bringing the US back into the accord after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, and to bring Iran back into compliance with key nuclear commitments it suspended in response to the sanctions.

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