A 6.1-magnitude earthquake has hit southwest Iran, killing dozens of people, but leaving a nearby nuclear power station intact. The quake struck hours after Tehran launched two new nuclear projects.
At least 37 people were killed on Tuesday when the quake hit the southern town of Kaki at 4:22 p.m. local time (1152 UTC).
Bushehr provincial governor Fereidoun Hasanvand told Iranian state television a further 850 people were injured, including 100 who were hospitalized. He said significant damage had been done to the region, and rescue services had been deployed.
Initial fears that the quake may have damaged a nuclear power plant located in the city of Bushehr, some 89km (55 miles) from the epicenter, have been dispelled. In a statement, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the 1,000-megawatt facility was unharmed.
“Iran has informed [the IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Center] of the event, reporting that there has been no damage to the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and no radioactive release from the installation,” the UN agency said in a statement.
The quake, which struck with a depth of 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), was felt in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Bahrain where evacuations were reported.
Iran has declared three days of mourning.
Iran launches new projects
On Tuesday, two new nuclear facilities for mining and processing uranium were opened in central Iran, coinciding with the country’s National Day of Nuclear Technology.
In a televised statement, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad celebrated the event, urging Western leaders to accept Iran’s right to pursue uranium enrichment.
“[Western nations have] tried their utmost to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but Iran has gone nuclear,” the Iranian president said. “Nobody will be able to stop it.”
“This nuclear technology and power and science have been institutionalized … All the stages are in our control and every day that we go forward a new horizon opens up for the Iranian nation,” said Ahmadinejad on Tuesday.
Two mining sites, Saghand 1 and 2, and a milling plant in Ardakan comprise the country’s latest nuclear project. The Ardakan Plant will give Iran the ability to process raw ore into a material called “yellowcake,” which can then be used for power or a nuclear weapon.
Controversial nuclear program
Western leaders – fearing that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons – have attempted on numerous occasions to dissuade Tehran from pursuing a nuclear program, by holding numerous talks and imposing crippling sanctions on the country.
But Tehran maintains it wants to enrich uranium for the benefit of its energy program and has remained defiant even as the international bans have hurt its economy.
Iran’s latest move came after failed nuclear talks just days ago in Kazakhstan.
The P5 +1 – the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – had demanded that Iran scale back ist nuclear program, but Iran stood by its view that, as a sovereign nation, it has the right to enrich uranium.
Speaking from Jerusalem on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the US was “still open to negotiation,” but reminded Iran that it “cannot and will not have a nuclear weapon.”
ccp, kms/mz (AFP, Reuters, dpa)