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Nuclear spokesman: Blast's crater was so big that I fell in

Natanz blast took out main power and backup, Iranian official acknowledges

‘Technically, enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,’ energy panel head tells state TV; Tehran MPs urge suspension of nuke talks; US officials don’t know if Iran will show in Vienna

File: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
File: Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

An Iranian official has acknowledged that Sunday’s blast at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, which has been attributed to Israel, took out the plant’s main electrical power system and its backup.

“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, told Iranian state television on Monday.

“They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”

The comments from Davani, the former head of Iran’s atomic energy organization, came as reports in Israel and the US provided new details of the early Sunday bombing and its consequences.

Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran's vice president and head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization (photo credit: Ronald Zak/AP)
Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, Iran’s vice president and head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization (Ronald Zak/AP)

The New York Times reported that the blast was caused by a bomb that was smuggled into the plant and then detonated remotely. The report cited an unnamed intelligence official, without specifying whether they were American or Israeli. This official also specified that the blast took out Natanz’s primary electrical system as well as its backup.

Israel’s Channel 13 news on Monday night said the entire Natanz facility remained non-functional since the attack, and that the blast set back the Iranian program by six months or more. The Times report said intelligence officials believed it would take many months for the damage to be repaired.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, claimed earlier Monday that emergency power had already been restored at the plant and enrichment was continuing.

“A large portion of the enemy’s sabotage can be restored, and this train cannot be stopped,” he told Iranian media, according to the Times.

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, is interviewed from his hospital bed on April 12, 2021, after being injured the day before in a reported fall at the Natanz nuclear facility. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The report said that Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said the explosion inside the bunker had created a hole so big that he fell into it when trying to examine the damage, injuring his head, back, leg and arm.

Sunday’s incident came as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Israel for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The US, Israel’s main security partner, is seeking to reenter the 2015 atomic accord aimed at limiting Tehran’s program so that it cannot pursue a nuclear weapon — a move staunchly opposed by Israel, particularly Netanyahu.

According to the Times, US officials said they did not know if their Iranian counterparts would show up in Vienna on Wednesday when the talks on the agreement were set to resume.

Lawmakers in Tehran have called for the discussions to be suspended, although the US denied Monday that it was involved in the incident at Natanz.

FILE: The aftermath of an explosion and a fire at an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, July 5, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

The Israeli Channel 13 report said Monday that the bomb went off Sunday at 4 a.m., when some 1,000 workers were at Natanz. The facility was reportedly evacuated immediately after the blast over fears of further bombs, but no other explosives were found.

The Channel 13 news report, which did not cite a source, said the explosive was placed near the main electricity line at Natanz and that when it detonated, the entire facility stopped functioning.

“All the signs point to this being the worst attack that Iran’s nuclear program has suffered… at the most important Iranian nuclear facility,” said Alon Ben-David, the network’s military analyst.

Natanz has previously been targeted, including by an explosion that rocked the facility last summer, in what was also said to have been an Israeli attack aimed at disrupting uranium enrichment and research at the site. In 2010, the United States and Israel allegedly halted Iran’s nuclear program with the Stuxnet virus, which caused Iranian centrifuges to tear themselves apart, reportedly destroying a fifth of the country’s machines.

Israel is anticipating Iran will respond to the latest attack but not necessarily right away, according to Ben-David. He said such retaliation could come in the form of a cyberattack on civilian infrastructure, an attack on Israeli-owned ships, missile fire from Syria or Yemen, or cruise missile or drone attacks on strategic Israeli targets.

“Yesterday signifies that the faceoff between Israel and Iran has escalated to a higher level,” he said.

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

The network also said Iran may now try to expand its operation at the underground Fordo plant, where it has over 1,000 centrifuges. There were some 6,000 centrifuges at Natanz.

Separately, the Kan public broadcaster reported that advanced centrifuges were damaged in the blast at Natanz. The report, which cited an intelligence source, did not specify which model of centrifuges were targeted. Iran publicly inaugurated the advanced IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges at the facility on Saturday.

President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The television reports came after the Iranians downplayed the extent of the attack, with a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran saying Monday that the blast was caused by a “small explosion” but insisting the damage could be quickly repaired.

Iran initially reported a power blackout had hit Natanz on Sunday, a day after it announced it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges banned under the 2015 deal limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran blamed Israel for the attack, calling it an act of “nuclear terrorism,” and has vowed “revenge on the Zionist regime.”

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