{The electrical} drawback impacts the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz

Tehran, Iran (AP) – Iran’s Natanz nuclear site had a problem with its electricity distribution network on Sunday just hours after it started up new advanced centrifuges that enrich uranium faster, state television reported. It was the most recent incident where one of Tehran’s safest locations was hit in negotiations over the broken nuclear deal with world powers.

According to Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the civilian nuclear program, the power supply in above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls had been cut off.

“The power was actually turned off here and we don’t know the reason for the outage,” he said. “The incident is being investigated and we will let you know the reason as soon as we find out.”

The word state television used in its reports attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can also be used for “accident”.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which oversees the Iranian program, said it was “aware of the media reports,” but declined to comment.

Malek Shariati Niasar, a lawmaker who serves as the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, wrote on Twitter that the incident was “very suspicious” and expressed concerns about possible “sabotage and infiltration”. He said lawmakers are also following details of the incident.

Natanz, a facility previously targeted by the Stuxnet computer virus, was largely built underground to withstand enemy air strikes. It became a focal point for Western fears of Iran’s nuclear program in 2002 when satellite photos showed Iran building its underground centrifuge facility at the location about 200 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran.

Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later labeled sabotage. Iran is now rebuilding this facility deep in a nearby mountain.

Israel, the regional arch enemy of Iran, has been suspected of having carried out an attack and launched other attacks as the world powers are now negotiating its nuclear deal with Tehran in Vienna.

Iran also accused Israel of killing a scientist who started the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier. Israel has not alleged any of the attacks, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly cited Iran as the greatest threat to his country in recent weeks.

Israeli officials could not be reached immediately for comment. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin landed in Israel on Sunday for talks with Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Secretary Benny Gantz.

Today Natanz is home to the most important uranium enrichment facility in the country. In the long underground halls, centrifuges quickly spin uranium hexafluoride gas to enrich uranium.

On Saturday, Iran announced that it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the factory. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which is designed to enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran’s first-generation centrifuge, the IR-1. The nuclear deal restricted Iran to only using IR-1 for enrichment.

Since then President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has given up all limits on its uranium supplies. It now enriches the purity by up to 20%, a technical step away from a weapons content of 90%. Iran is maintaining its nuclear program for peaceful purposes, but fears that Tehran might build a bomb led world powers to sign the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.

The deal lifted economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restricting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to closely monitor its work.

On Tuesday, an Iranian cargo ship intended to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion, likely from a limpets mine. Iran blamed Israel for the explosion. This attack escalated a long-running shadow war on the waterways of the Middle East targeting shipping in the region.

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Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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