Explosion Reported Near Iranian Uranium Processing Facility

Iranian nuclear facilities (Wkimedia Commons map)

According to Haaertz, the Iranian Fars News Agency is reporting (although I don’t see a story yet at their website or at Mehr News) an explosion in Isfahan, where an Iranian uranium processing facility is located:

A explosion rocked the western Iranian city of Isfahan on Monday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, adding that the blast was heard in several parts of the city.

/snip/

It should be noted that Iran operates a uranium conversion plant near Isfahan, one with an important function in the chain of Iran’s nuclear program.

It first went into operation in 2004, taking uranium from mines and producing uranium fluoride gas, which then feeds the centrifuges that enrich the uranium.

The underground centrifuge facility at nearby Natanz was previously attacked by the Stuxnet virus and is seen as perhaps the most important Iranian enrichment facility.

When today’s explosion and the recent death of Hassan Moqaddam, the head of Iran’s missile program, in an explosion of dubious origin while hawks nattered on about the IAEA Iran report, are coupled with the Stuxnet attack, it appears that the Iranian nuclear program is being attacked simultaneously at all points along the path that could lead to a weapon on a missile.

Was today’s explosion an escalation of that battle?

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

15 replies
  1. GulfCoastPirate says:

    This is going to end very, very badly for the US if we don;t distance ourselves from those Israeli idiots.

  2. BoxTurtle says:

    Is this their only source of UF6? If so, hitting it intelligently could hurt a lot. UF6 is nasty stuff, even without considering the radiation. It’ll corrode anything except nickel. Hitting the tail end would make a difficult to repair mess.

    And if their enriched U is NOT stored as UF6, then they’re dead in the water with no way to convert yellowcake.

    The cynic in me is saying that the USG actually believes that Iran is only a few kilos of weapons grade away from a deliverable weapon and that’s why we’re seeing these risky attempts to stop Irans program.

    We could try talking to Iran without threatening them or insulting them. Perhaps they’d return the consideration. That would be a start.

    Boxturtle (more likely we’d poison each others water pitcher at the table *sigh*)

  3. rugger9 says:

    Boxie’s correct about UF6 and the process interruption [and accepting the sole source premise], especially the risk factor. Here are some possibilities as I see them, not necessarily exhaustive:

    1. This is another side effect of Stuxnet / Duqu already tied firmly to the USA, and the USA gets blamed.
    2. This was a Mossad op, and the USA gets blamed because we are seen in the ME as holding the Israeli leash, though the other way around is more accurate.
    3. This was a real live Iranian accident [design, handling, procedural, etc.], but because of internal politics, and the perceptions noted above the USA gets blamed.
    4. This is something put together by the Chinese / Russians with dubious QA, which has not been reported like #1 and 2, so the USA gets blamed. Note also that it’s easier to point fingers than accept responsibility, especially in politics.

    We’re going to get blamed regardless of the true situation, it’s just more convenient for the Guardian Council. I also saw in the news that the Iranian navy has three more diesel electric boats in operation, that isn’t good news for the chickenhawks if they are thinking clearly because D-E boats on battery are very hard to find. It also begs the question about how much the governments of China and Russia are tacitly helping this muck-it-up process along to ensure we are bogged down in the ME so they can go elsewhere to do things. Both have beefs with the USA, observing Medvedev’s threats about the missile shield with Putin’s backing as the latest shot across the bow.

  4. rugger9 says:

    Any chance the Russians or Chinese are sending UF6 to Iran, and not telling us?

    I really can’t rule it out since the two governments haven’t said boo about stopping anything except sanctions on Iran.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @rugger9: Remember, Iran insisted that the Hassan Moqaddam blast was an accident. I think they’re in a dicey position here. If they admit neither were accidents–as is likely the case–they’ve effectively announced that Israel (and the US) has already started a war on them. But then they’ll have to take steps that these blasts are probably designed to accomplish: provide Israel the casus belli it needs to get explicit US involvement.

    I think yesterday’s attempt to roll out a new policy, putting Turkey in the crosshairs, was an attempt to find a middle ground. But Israel seems to be unimpressed with that threat (not least because it’s been unimpressed w/Turkey’s own efforts to demand respect for its sovereignty on things like Gaza flotillas).

  6. rugger9 says:

    @emptywheel: #5
    We already have with the cyber attacks, and given the outcome of the blasts with respect to their nuclear weapons capability, someone needs heads to roll. Now, adding Turkey to the mix is interesting here, since the Turks are NATO members [we are obligated to defend them if attacked by Iran], and until the flotillas were a staunch Israeli ally. I’m sure the Iranian Guardian Council is very aware of the details regarding the rift between Tel Aviv and Ankara and would in my view be more likely to exploit it than heal it which would be the result of saber rattling against Turkey. Israel would have to look to the north as well as the east for trouble, and Syria would have less to worry about.

    Claiming a war is already on helps the regime in Iran, like it helped the neocons here. Even if the populace doesn’t buy it, it justifies whatever power entrenchment the regime does, and that won’t be good for the region.

  7. Jim White says:

    Haaertz continues to update their story at the link above, and now have a screencap from the original Fars story about the blast, including a photo of dark smoke. Here is a new excerpt:

    Speaking with Fars news agency, Isfahan’s deputy mayor confirmed the reports and said the authorities are investigating the matter. However, after the incident was reported in Israel, the report was taken off the Fars website.

  8. Jim White says:

    The Guardian now also has a story up, and their account of the conflicting statements from deputy governor Mehdi Ismaili is pretty amusing:

    Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency was one of the first media organisations to report the explosion, saying it was heard at 2.40pm local time (1110 GMT). Fars quoted the deputy governor, Mehdi Ismaili, as confirming a sound that the news agency reported was loud enough to be heard across the city. The agency, however, removed the article from its website sometime later.

    Ismaili then spoke to another semi-official agency, Mehr, denying his quotes as reported by Fars. “I have heard no sound whatsoever in Isfahan,” he said. Ismaili also told the Irna state news agency that he had not spoken to Fars in the first place.

  9. rugger9 says:

    So, the plot thickens….

    Depending upon the size of the blast, there might be independent forensic evidence, ground destruction or possibly something on the earthquake monitors. It’s how we saw the USSR Northern Fleet BABOOM back in the Cold War days.

    Either the “blast” was made up to incite war hysteria [thereby helping the regime clamp down], or, the blast really happened but the government doesn’t want anyone to know about it. As far as the latter possibility, I’m wondering if there is something in the seismic record, which would translate to an energy release of suspicious proportions.

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