TEHRAN, Iran – Iran confirmed on Sunday that a damaged building at the underground Natanz nuclear site was a new centrifuge assembly center, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Iranian officials had earlier tried to extinguish the fire, which started early Thursday morning, calling it an “incident” that affected an “industrial shed”. However, a published image and video of the site, broadcast by Iranian state television, showed a two-story brick building with burning marks and its roof apparently destroyed.
A spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency Behrouz Kamalvandier said on Sunday that the plant was launched in 2013 and inaugurated in 201.
“The goal was to build more advanced centrifuge machines there,” he said, adding that the damage would “probably delay the development and production of advanced centrifuge machines in the medium term.”
He said the fire had “damaged precision and measuring instruments” and that the center was not operating at full capacity due to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran began experimenting with advanced centrifuge models two years ago after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
An online video and message claiming responsibility for the fire was released Friday. A group of self-proclaimed “Cheetahs of the Homeland”, with multiple claims, as well as Iranian experts who have never heard of the group, questioned whether Natanz again faced sabotage by a foreign country, such as the United States and Israel during the Stuxnet computer virus outbreak. Was believed to have been engineered.
The Natanz fire broke out less than a week after an explosion in an area east of Tehran that analysts believe hid an underground tunnel system and missile production site.
Speaking to the Associated Press on Friday, two US-based analysts identified the damaged building as Natanz’s new Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center, based on published images and satellite imagery. A satellite image released Friday by Planet Labs Inc., aimed at experts from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, shows that half of the building appears to have been damaged.
Destroying the facilities of the centrifuge assembly could greatly affect Iran’s ability to enrich uranium at a faster rate, which could be a goal of either Israel or the United States.
Natanz today spins uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium in centrifuges in the hosts’ long underground halls to facilitate the country’s main uranium enrichment. Currently, the IAEA says Iran enriches uranium to about 4.5% of its purity compared to the terms of the nuclear deal, but the grade of the weapon remains below 90%. According to the IAEA, the workers there also tested in advanced centrifuges.