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Iran's Natanz nuclear power plant suffers electrical incident

The accident occurs shortly after the commissioning of new uranium centrifuges. The Persian authorities announced that there were no casualties or environmental contamination
The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran displays centrifuge machines at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran.

PHOTO/Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran via AP  -   The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran displays centrifuge machines at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran

Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi reported "an incident" at the Natanz nuclear power plant on Sunday. Kamalvandi announced that the problem was related to the electricity distribution network, and that there were no casualties or radioactive contamination. He added that the authorities are carrying out investigations to find out the origin of the accident.

This is not the first time that the Natanz plant or other Iranian plants have suffered an incident. The authorities have not announced the cause, but have made allusions to other countries, especially Israel. Tehran has hinted that Israel was responsible for the cyber attacks against the facility in July 2020. Iranian President Hassan Rohani also accused Israel of assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, one of the country's top nuclear scientists.

El portavoz de la Organización de Energía Atómica de Irán, Behrouz Kamalvandi
AFP/ATTA KENARE - Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi

The trouble at Natanz comes hours after Iran announced that it had started up 164 new centrifuges at the plant. The event was broadcast live on state television, where President Hassan Rohani was seen inaugurating the new centrifuges. They also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they claim will enrich uranium 50 times faster than the first-generation IR-1 centrifuge. The nuclear deal obliged Tehran to use only the IR-1 for enrichment. However, since former US president Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has abandoned all limits on its nuclear arsenal. It now enriches up to 20 per cent uranium. The United States has been closely following this new nuclear development, with a senior State Department official reporting that President Joe Biden would be willing to lift some of the sanctions on Tehran. However, he has indicated that only sanctions applied from 2018 would be removed, while others against companies, institutions and leaders would remain in place. "The United States reserves the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons, whether for terrorism or human rights violations or interference in our elections," he said. 

Centro de investigación nuclear iraní de Natanz
AFP/HENGHAMEH FAHIMI - Iranian nuclear research centre at Natanz

A few months ago they also commissioned a new set of advanced IR.2M centrifuges at the Natanz facility. These displays of nuclear capability are an attempt by Tehran to pressure the US government to lift sanctions, the first step towards resuming nuclear negotiations since 2018, when Trump pulled out of the deal. During the election campaign, Biden promised to return if Iran complies with the 2015 pact, but Tehran has announced that it will only resume talks if Washington lifts the sanctions. These sanctions are increasingly sinking the Iranian economy. Oil exports and imports have fallen considerably, and the country's industrial metals have also been sanctioned. Tehran must also cope with sanctions imposed by the European Union. Negotiations are currently underway in Vienna to bring Iran and the US back into the nuclear deal. Washington and Tehran will initiate indirect talks through European, Russian and Chinese diplomats. Progress is reportedly being made, as announced by the coordinator of the joint commission, Enrique Mora: "There have been constructive and solution-oriented exchanges this week".