JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—The huge explosion that rocked the Isfahan uranium conversion plant in western Iran on Monday—at first confirmed and then denied by Iranian authorities—apparently caused extensive damage to the facility, according to The Times of London.
Isfahan is the home of a key uranium processing facility which feeds the Natanz fuel enrichment facility, and is thus a vital part of Iran’s race to develop nuclear weapons.
Mohammad-Mahdi Esma’ili, Isfahan’s deputy governor for political and security affairs, denied there was an explosion and called the reports “sheer lies,” according to the official IRNA news agency.
Esma’ili told an Iranian news website that an explosion had occurred as a result of a military drill, and denied reports that the blast had occurred at the nearby nuclear facility. “There is no such thing, the blast was entirely from the military maneuver,” he said.
On the other hand, speaking with the Fars news agency earlier Monday, Esma’ili initially confirmed the reports and said the authorities were investigating the matter. However, after the incident was reported in Israel, the report was taken off the semi-official Fars website.
According to earlier reports by Fars, frightened residents called the fire department after the blast, forcing the city authorities to admit there had been an explosion. Residents said their windows shook from the explosion.
However, a report in the Times on Wednesday quoted Israeli intelligence officials as saying the blast had not been a military accident and that the Isfahan nuclear facility had apparently been heavily damaged.
The report cited satellite photos showing large columns of smoke billowing from the conversion plant site.
The Israeli sources told the Times that there is “no doubt” the blast had damaged the nuclear facility, and that the explosion was not an “accident.”
“This caused damage to the facilities in Isfahan, particularly to the elements we believe were involved in storage of raw materials,” one source told the Times.
The Isfahan plant has been operating since 2004, processing thousands of kilograms of mined uranium into uranium fluoride gas for the centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz. Tons of the gas were stockpiled at Isfahan.
On November 12, an explosion occurred at an Iranian military base near the town of Bid Kaneh, killing 17 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Maj.-Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, chief architect of the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program. Iran blamed Israel’s Mossad for the blast.