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Explosion at Iranian Nuclear Facility?

Michael Johnson

A major explosion rocked the Iranian nuclear facility at Fordo last week, according to a report in The Times of London that cites unnamed Israeli intelligence officials. The incident was first reported Thursday by former Iranian Revolutionary Guard member, Reza Kahlili, whose Iranian source noted that the blast created a three mile shockwave, caused a nearby highway to close for hours, and trapped 240 people inside. The area around the facility does not appear to have been evacuated, however.

Tehran has denied reports of the explosion, calling them “Western propaganda” used to impact the “process and outcome” of talks with the P5+1 — Russia, the U.S., UK, China, France, and Germany — over Iran’s nuclear program. The group hopes to hold negotiations with Iran next month, although Tehran has yet to agree to meet on dates proposed by the six world powers since December. Shutting down Fordo is one of the P5+1’s demands of Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility some 200 miles south of Tehran in 2008. (Photo: AP)

Iran’s nuclear program has been attacked multiple times in recent years. On a number of occasions, Tehran accused the U.S. and Israel of assassinating its nuclear scientists — charges the countries deny. And no government has claimed responsibility for the Stuxnet computer virus that targeted centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant in 2010, although it was widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israel project.

The Fordo facility is used to enrich uranium up to 20%, bringing Iran close to the 90% level needed to build a nuclear bomb. In 2009, Western intelligence agencies publicly identified the facility, which Tehran hid from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Located deep underground, the enrichment plant is fortified against attack and would be difficult to destroy in an airstrike.