A massive explosion rocked Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility last Monday, January 21, destroying huge parts of the installation and trapping as many as 240 personnel deep underground, according to a former Iranian intelligence official.
Some mystery surrounds the truth of the reports, which emerged through conservative website WorldNetDaily last week and were recently backed up by the Jerusalem Post, which quoted Israeli intelligence officials confirming the attack.
The blast occurred at 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning and shook buildings within a radius of three miles. Fordow’s nuclear plant is buried some 300 feet beneath a mountain, and is immune to airstrikes and most bunker-busting bombs. According to Hamidreza Zakeri, formerly of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, two elevators were disabled and the emergency stairwells were inaccessible. One elevator descended 240 feet to chambers containing centrifuges; another went even lower to move heavy equipment and cycle uranium hexafluoride.
An explosion occurred in the third centrifuge chambers, directly above the high-grade uranium reserves, Zakeri said. Regime officials believe an explosive device was smuggled into the facility disguised as equipment or uranium.
“Israel believes the Iranians have not evacuated the surrounding area. It is unclear whether that is because no harmful substances have been released, or because Tehran is trying to avoid sparking panic among residents,” an Israeli source told the Times of London.
According to WND correspondent Reza Kahili, the previously secret plant contains some 2,700 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to the 20% level. While Iran recently converted some of its high-grade uranium to reactor fuel, further enrichment takes just weeks; following recent failed talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iranian representatives refused to stop the enrichment process underway at Fordow and the larger 10,000 centrifuge complex at Natanz.
The complete abandonment of the Fordow plant was one of the conditions made by the P5+1 Nations (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) during nuclear technology negotiations last year. Those talks were unsuccessful.
Iran currently has enough low-grade uranium to produce six nuclear bombs. It takes 225 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium to reach the 90% level necessary for one nuclear bomb, Kahili said.
Kahili’s objectivity has been called into question. He is a known speaker at right-wing events, compares the Iranian regime to that of Nazi Germany, and never revealed his face for fear of retribution. As Russia Today admits, no hard evidence has emerged to back the allegations of an attack.
Iran has steadfastly denied that there was any incident within their nuclear program, calling reports part of a Western “propaganda machine.” If there was no international attack, then the explosion could be the result of a malfunction or accident at the facility.
Some Israeli sources have suggested the news of an explosion could be Iranian propaganda intended to prevent international inspectors from gaining access to Fordow.
“They [Tehran] are more than capable of inventing such a story – although if it's true, a damaged Fordow would definitely benefit Israel,” Shlomo Aronson, an Israeli foreign policy expert at Hebrew University, commented.
“Israel would do anything within its power to stop the Iranian nuclear program. This includes tactics that fall just short of, or substitute, a direct attack, such as the cyber war that has been raging for the past few years or acts of sabotage on Iran's nuclear facilities.”
The “normally garrulous” Israelis have been notably quiet on news of the attack, though Israeli Civil Defence Minister Avi Dichter said that “any explosion in Iran which does not harm people but harms Iran’s assets is a blessing.”
Irsaeli reticence may reflect a desire to remain quiet about a suspected attack rather than pleasant surprise. If true, these reports would hardly constitute the first time an unexpected explosion has set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, one of the country’s top nuclear scientists, was killed January 2011 when his car exploded.