TEHRAN, Iran — State television said Wednesday that Iranian authorities had foiled a “sabotage attack” on a civilian nuclear plant near the capital, while specifics about the event were scant.
According to Iranian state media, the attempted attack on a building belonging to Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization “caused no deaths or damages and was unable to impair the Iranian nuclear programme,” with officials attempting to identify the offenders.
Iranian state media gave little information about the strike, claiming only that it was directed at a vast nuclear complex in Karaj, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Tehran.
When contacted for a response, an Iranian official responded to the first storey by Nournews, which is said to be connected to the Supreme National Security Council of Iran. The official talked on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with the media about the situation.
The Iranian government did not say which facility in Karaj was targeted. The Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center are one of two known locations linked with Iran’s nuclear programme in the area.
The Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center, created in 1974, is described by Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization as a facility that employs nuclear technology to increase “soil, water, agricultural, and animal output.”
The region is close to a number of industrial areas, including pharmaceutical manufacturing plants where Iran produces its own coronavirus vaccine.
Earlier on Wednesday, unsubstantiated claims circulated on Iranian social media claiming officials had stopped an unmanned aerial vehicle from attacking a COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant. But, according to Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency, an unidentified officer in the country’s air defence units later ruled out that hypothesis, saying it was “not a drone assault, but rather probable sabotage targeting security that does not come under the jurisdiction of our air defence system.” The official did not go into further detail.
Iran is subject to IAEA safeguards at 18 nuclear plants and nine additional sites. The IAEA does not identify the agricultural nuclear research centre as a “safeguard facility,” although a neighbouring nuclear waste site near Karaj does. In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) paid a visit to the facility.
According to a policy study published in March 2015 by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy, the Karaj site has been “storing radioactive waste and equipment removed from atomic vapour laser isotope separation operations in the adjacent Lashkar Abad.”
The Agricultural Center was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council in 2007, along with other sites it identified as being engaged in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. The facility was also sanctioned by the US Treasury under then-President George W. Bush.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, the US removed such sanctions, but they were re-imposed in 2018 following then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.
The failed sabotage attempt comes after numerous alleged events targeting Iran’s nuclear programme in recent months, which have heightened regional tensions as diplomatic attempts in Vienna to resuscitate Tehran’s shattered nuclear accord with global powers gather pace.
In April, an unexplained blackout at Iran’s subterranean Natanz nuclear plant destroyed part of the country’s centrifuges. Last July, mysterious flames erupted at Natanz’s sophisticated centrifuge assembly factory, which officials eventually attributed to sabotage. Iran is now re-constructing the facilities deep into a neighbouring mountain.
Although Israel has not claimed responsibility for the sabotage, it is commonly assumed that it was carried out by them. Iran also blamed Israel for the assassination in November of a scientist who started the country’s military nuclear programme decades ago.
As a result of Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal, Iran has gradually abandoned all restrictions on uranium enrichment. Although still short of weapons quality, the government is already enriching uranium to 60%, the greatest level ever. Iran has stated that its nuclear goals are benign and that if US sanctions are lifted, it will return to its obligations.
Iran’s hardline parliament passed a measure in December that would halt part of UN inspections of its nuclear sites if European signatories did not lift oil and banking sanctions by February.
After that, the IAEA reached a temporary agreement with Iran to rescue the surveillance photos, with Tehran threatening to erase them if sanctions were to remain in place. Iran’s presidential chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, was cited by Iran’s official television as stating that the country will decide whether to extend the accord when it expires on Thursday.
Iran’s lone nuclear power facility, at Bushehr, was temporarily shut down for unknown reasons earlier this week. The plant had been threatened with shutdown earlier this year due to American sanctions that reportedly prohibited Iran from acquiring equipment for repairs.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was notified on Tuesday that a technical problem had struck the Bushehr plant’s electrical generator. The plant would reopen after being linked to the national power grid, according to the government.
Engineers were trying to fix the broken generator, according to Iran’s nuclear department.