Iran Fordow Nuclear Facility Explosion: Did It Actually Happen?

New details have emerged on WorldNetDaily regarding reports that a massive explosion at Iran’s Fordow plutonium enrichment facility on January 21 caused huge damage to the plant and trapped 240 personnel underground.

Now, WND’s source claims that 16 North Koreans, including 14 technicians and two high-ranking military officers, are sealed underground with the Iranian staff.

The White House has denied reports of the blast at Fordow; White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday that “we have no information to confirm the allegations in the report and we do not believe the report is credible.”

Ali Reza Nourizadeh, a senior researcher and director of the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London, confirmed Monday that an explosion occurred and that while damage to the facility was limited, the entrances are destroyed and an unknown number of personnel remain inside. According to Nourizadeh, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has encircled the city of Qom and arrested eight to 12 journalists who leaked news of the incident to the international media.

WND’s source claims that an entourage of North Korean nuclear technicians and military officers were sent to Tehran on January 15 and 17 and visited two enrichment sites – one unknown to the West to be revealed by WND, and the other, Fordow, where the North Koreans were to witness the activation of 174 newer, high-tech centrifuges.

Hamidreza Zakeri, a former Iranian intelligence official and defector speaking with WND, gave the following account which he says came from two closed-circuit cameras monitoring the facility:

9:15 AM: Iranian scientists begin feeding uranium gas into the new centrifuges, observed by the 14 members of the North Korean technical team and their two commanding officers.

10:43 AM: Power pressure in the system drops and system warning signals are activated. Systems return to normal within 2 minutes.

11:36 AM: Five concurrent explosions occur in the centrifuge chambers, accompanied by two blasts in the uranium reserve enclosures and a tertiary explosion in the main hall leading to the exit.

At the time of the explosions, the camera feed was distorted by a “very bright red and purple light” and extreme noise. Walls could be seen collapsing in the centrifuge chambers, and the explosions appeared to originate from the ceilings.

Security forces are ordered to remain in the monitoring room and cut off contact with the outside world until counter-intelligence officers arrive. Twenty-one personnel are herded into a conference room, presumably to avoid intelligence leaks.

Afternoon: Iranian security personnel ordered to close down all roads connecting to the complex. Two hours after explosions, counterintelligence officers arrive and conclude the blasts may have been caused by bombs placed in ceiling lamps, triggered by fluctuations in voltage frequency. One of the last images shows eight personnel in radiation-resistant gear attempting to secure one of the damaged rooms.

Iranian authorities apparently have not come up with a plan to rescue their personnel as of Monday, January 28, and fear that an operation to retrieve the facility staff could result in a large-scale release of radioactive material. According to WND’s sources, top Iranian officials including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have met regarding the incident and a parliamentary briefing is scheduled for Thursday.

On Tuesday, Zakeri told Israeli Army Radio that the explosion had indeed occurred and that “it was a big explosion, and because the facility is built under the mountain rock, it is very hard to reach workers trapped in there. All the elevators and emergency stairs have collapsed.”

The Daily Beast does not buy WND writer Reza Kahili’s account of the incident, pointing out the White House rebuttal and the lack of confirming sources. Kahili’s objectivity has been called into question by other sources as well. 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. 

Some Israeli officials have stopped short of a blanket denial of the incident, perhaps due to some confusion in the security establishment as to what happened at Fordow.

“The fact that the Iranians deny it doesn’t mean much. They will always deny it,” retired Israeli intelligence colonel Ephraim Kam told the Daily Beast.

“But there was just one source and I’m not sure he’s reliable enough. And usually, you would expect something to be visible on the surface, maybe photos of a fire or evidence of rescue operations. That didn’t exist here.”

Another Israeli source was more critical. One spoke to the Global Post on condition of anonymity.

“The only source for this story is a website that is beneath trashy. They have zero credibility. No other source has had anything to say,” the source said.

Additionally, the website that posted the confirmation from Nourizadeh, MissingPeace, appears to have a strong pro-Israeli bias.

Until more information emerges, it remains unclear what exactly happened at the Fordow facility. For all we know, the staff there is enjoying a hearty laugh at rumors they are buried alive.

We will, however, have a pretty good idea if the smoke leads to fire by Thursday – when International Atomic Energy Agency officials are scheduled to tour Fordow.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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