Iran Foils Attack on Nuclear Facility Near Country's Capital

Iranian authorities foiled an attempted "sabotage attack" on a civilian nuclear facility near Tehran, state TV announced Wednesday.

Nournews reported that the failed attack targeted an unspecified building in Karaj city, about 25 miles from Tehran, owned by Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. The media outlet said that the strike "left no casualties or damages and was unable to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program."

Nournews did not describe any specific details about the attack, but stated that Iranian authorities were in the process of determining those responsible. An anonymous Iranian official declined to offer comments to the Associated Press, and instead referred to the coverage by Nournews, which is regarded as close to the country's Supreme National Security Council.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. group that oversees Tehran's nuclear affairs, did not respond to the AP's request for comment.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Iran Nuclear Power Plant
A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility. - Bushehr is Iran's only nuclear power station and is currently running on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. Iranian authorities foiled an attempted attack on an unspecified civilian nuclear facility, state TV reported Wednesday. Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

Iranian authorities did not specify which facility in Karaj had been targeted. There are two sites associated with Iran's nuclear program known to be in the area, including the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center.

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization describes the Karaj Agricultural and Medical Research Center as a facility founded in 1974 that uses nuclear technology to improve "quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production."

The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian social media crackled with unconfirmed reports that authorities had prevented an unmanned aerial vehicle from targeting a COVID-19 vaccine production facility.

There are 18 nuclear facilities and nine other locations in Iran under IAEA safeguards. The agricultural nuclear research center is not listed as a "safeguard facility" with the IAEA, though a nearby nuclear waste facility around Karaj is. The IAEA visited the site in 2003.

The Karaj facility had "been storing waste from the nuclear program and equipment dismantled from atomic vapor laser isotope separation experiments in the nearby Lashkar Abad," according to a policy paper by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy written in March 2015.

The U.N. Security Council in 2007 sanctioned the Agricultural Center, identifying it along with other facilities it described as being involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The U.S. Treasury under then-President George W. Bush also sanctioned the facility.

The U.S. lifted those sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal, although re-imposed them in 2018 with then-President Donald Trump's decision to unilaterally withdraw from the accord.

The foiled sabotage attack follows several suspected incidents targeting Iran's nuclear program that have heightened regional tensions in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna to resurrect Tehran's tattered atomic deal with world powers.

In April, Iran's underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, unexplained fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out the sabotage, though it has not claimed it. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country's military nuclear program decades earlier.

Trump's decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal has seen Iran, over time, abandon all limitations on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60%, its highest ever levels, although still short of weapons grade. Iran has said that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the U.S. lifts its sanctions.

Earlier this week, Iran's sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr underwent an unexplained temporary emergency shutdown. Authorities earlier this year had warned of the plant's possible closure because of American sanctions that allegedly prevented Iran from procuring equipment for repairs.

On Tuesday, the IAEA said it was informed of a technical program striking the Bushehr plant's electrical generator. The agency said the facility would go back online after being reconnected to the national electric grid.

Iran's nuclear department said that engineers were working to repair the broken generator.

Bushehr
A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows workers on a construction site in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant during an official ceremony to kick-start works for a second reactor at the facility. Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images