A fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Thursday but there were no casualties reported and the site is operating as usual, Iranian officials said.
The Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Iran’s main uranium enrichment site, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization initially reported that “an incident” had occurred at the facility in the central province of Isfahan. It later published a photo showing a shed at ground level had been partly burned.
“There is some damage to the shed which we are investigating. It was inactive and there was no radioactive material in it and there were no personnel,” the organisation’s spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, told state TV.
“There has been no interruption in the work of the enrichment site and no damage to the site.”
A photograph later released by the atomic energy agency showed a brick building with scorch marks and its roof apparently destroyed. It was not clear if that was the “shed” to which Kamalvandi referred.
Debris on the ground and a door that looked blown off its hinges suggested an explosion accompanied the blaze.
The governor of Natanz city, Ramazanali Ferdosi, said the incident caused a fire but he gave no details about the cause, Tasnim news agency reported.
Some experts did not rule out the possibility of sabotage given the importance of the Natanz nuclear site.
“Considering that this so-called incident happened just a few days after the explosion near the Parchin military base, the possibility of a sabotage cannot be ruled out,” a former Iranian nuclear official told Reuters news agency.
“Also Natanz enrichment facility has been targeted in the past by a computer virus,” he said, referring to an attack in 2010 by the Stuxnet computer virus that damaged centrifuges and is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel.
Last Friday, an explosion occurred east of Tehran near a sensitive military complex which the authorities said was caused by a tank leak in a gas storage facility in a public area.
Western security services believe Tehran carried out tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations more than a decade ago at the Parchin military and weapons development base. Iran has denied it carried out such tests.
Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions in a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.
But Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord since US President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed and intensified sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.
The deal only allows Iran to enrich uranium at Natanz facility, with just over 5,000 of first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.