The only Iranian nuclear power plant, in the port city of Bushehr, was shut down last weekend. The reactor, located about 750 kilometres south of the capital Tehran, automatically switched off on Saturday night by an emergency stop, the Iranian authorities report. According to Iran‘s Atomic Energy Organization, it is “a technical failure”.
A state-owned electricity company official Tavanir said yesterday in a program on Iranian television that the power plant will be flat for about three to four days. He did not announce the possible cause. He did say Iranians should take power outages into account. He also made the call to use as little power as possible.
Whether the outage is actually a technical error is the question. Since last year, there have been more mysterious incidents in Iran. Last year, there were several explosions in power plants and nuclear generation complexes. The incidents give the impression of possible cyber sabotage, something that has happened more frequently in Iran in the past. “What exactly happened there, we’re probably not going to find out right away,” says correspondent Daisy Mohr. “There are a lot of mysterious things happening around the atomic program in Iran, so it might well be that this is one of them.”
In the region, Iran‘s nuclear programme is particularly concerned with Israel. It is generally assumed that the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, is behind a series of (cyber) attacks on Iranian targets. The recently stepped Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, recently discussed an extensive operation involving tens of thousands of Iranian documents in an interview with an Israeli television channel. He also suggested that Israel is behind an attack earlier this year on an underground atomic complex in Natanz. “We say very clearly: we won’t allow you to get nuclear weapons,” Cohen said.
A potential shortage of parts, due to sanctions, may have played a role in problems in Bushehr.
controversial atomic chord
It is the first time Iran reported an incident at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which has been operating since 2011 and produces 1000 megawatts of power. The plant was built with the help of Russia, which took over construction in 1995 after years of delay in exchange for oil.
Iran‘s nuclear program has been highly controversial for years. The country says it needs the nuclear power plant to generate power, but Western governments fear that the regime is working secretly on nuclear weapons. Iran has always denied that.
The IAEA International Atomic Agency, the United Nations atomic Watchdog, found in May this year that the country has failed to comply with the rules of the atomic agreement agreed in 2015 for months. Despite lack of access to information, the IAEA estimates that Iran currently holds sixteen times the amount of enriched uranium permitted by the agreement. Uranium is needed for energy generation, but also for nuclear weapons creation.
The atomic agreement with Iran has been shaking since then U.S. President Trump stepped out of the deal in 2018. Iran’s relations with the United States deteriorated further in 2020, when the US Army killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
US President Joe Biden said during his election campaign that he wants to revive the agreement. New rounds of negotiations have begun since April, but they have been difficult. Iran seems willing to cooperate only when the previously imposed sanctions go off the table. But that‘s not so easy for Biden, as there is little support for that in America. “On both sides, trust is one of the most important issues and they both want the other to take the first step,” says Mohr.
New Iranian President
The big question is how, under President Raisi, the highly conservative chief judge elected last weekend during the presidential elections in Iran, will continue negotiations for a return to the 2015 atomic agreement. Vienna doesn’t seem to have yielded a clear result yet. Raisi has been out to the West on a regular basis, but said he would like to return to the deal recently.
“They‘re all back home now, but Raisi has indicated that they’re open to negotiations,” says Mohr. “The big question here is who Raisi will choose on his team as chief negotiator and foreign minister.”