Iran rules out drone or missile attack as cause of nuclear site blast
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Iran rules out drone or missile attack as cause of nuclear site blast

Top official says ‘traces of an explosion’ found inside building at Natanz nuclear complex, but refuses to divulge cause, citing ongoing investigation

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — A member of an influential Iranian security body said on Friday it had ruled out drone or missile attacks as the cause of an explosion at a nuclear site earlier this month.

The incident occurred at a warehouse under construction at the Natanz nuclear complex in central Iran on July 2, but caused no casualties or radioactive pollution, according to Iran’s nuclear body.

“What is certain is that in our view, a drone, missile, bomb or rocket attack is not the case,” ISNA news agency quoted Mojtaba Zolnour, head of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, as saying.

“There are traces of an explosion from elements on the inside (of the building) but since investigations are ongoing, I will not disclose the details,” he added.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council announced on July 3 that the “cause of the accident” at Natanz had been “accurately determined” but declined to release details, citing security reasons.

State news agency IRNA at the time published an editorial warning Iran’s arch-foes against hostile actions.

It said Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was behind the incident, without identifying the accounts.

A spokesman for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation has acknowledged that the incident caused “significant financial damage” and that the building had been designed to produce “advanced centrifuges.”

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Tehran announced in May last year it would progressively suspend certain commitments under a 2015 landmark nuclear deal with major powers.

The United States unilaterally abandoned the accord in 2018.

Iran restarted enriching uranium at Natanz last September, despite having agreed under the accord to put such activities there on hold. Tehran has always denied its nuclear program has any military dimension.

Officials with knowledge of the blast at Natanz told The New York Times earlier this month that it was most likely the result of a bomb planted at the facility, potentially at a strategic gas line, but that it was not out of the question that a cyberattack was used to cause a malfunction that led to the explosion.

The experts and analysts said the alleged Israeli attack exhibited the complexity of the Stuxnet virus that sabotaged Iranian enrichment centrifuges a decade ago.

The Stuxnet virus was uncovered in 2010 and was widely reported to have been developed together by US and Israeli intelligence agencies. It penetrated Iran’s rogue nuclear program, taking control and sabotaging parts of its enrichment processes by speeding up its centrifuges. Up to 1,000 centrifuges out of 5,000 were eventually damaged by the virus, according to reports, setting back the nuclear program.

Intelligence officials who assessed the damage to the Netanz centrifuge facility told The Times they believed it may have set the Iranians back by as much as two years.

The Natanz explosion was one of a series of mysterious blasts at Iranian strategic sites in recent weeks.

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