A 6.3-magnitude earthquake has hit southern Iran, near the location of the nation’s only nuclear power station. It struck hours after Tehran launched two nuclear projects to mark its National Day of Nuclear Technology.
At least three people were killed on Tuesday, Iranian state television reported, when the quake hit the southern town of Kaki at 4:22 p.m. local time (1152 UTC).
According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the quake was located 89km (55 miles) southeast of the city of Bushehr, where the nuclear plant is based. It said the quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers.
Iranian news agencies made no immediate mention of damage to the plant, but said search and rescue teams had been dispatched to the area.
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.”
Controversial nuclear program
Western leaders, fearing that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons, have attempted on numerous occasions to persuade 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.
“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 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.
Iran’s move appeared defiant in light of 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.”
UPDATE FROM RT NEWS:
Twenty people have been killed after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near Bushehr in Iran, AFP reported. Around 500 people have been injured, according to IRNA. The area is home to the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
The quake has been given “orange alert level” by the US Geological Survey (USGS). An orange alert means that significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread.
The earthquake’s epicenter was 89 kilometers (55 miles) away from the plant, just outside the town of Kaki. There are currently no reports available from the town.
The depth of the quake was 10 km (6.2miles). It was followed by several aftershocks, which measured between 4.8 and 6.1.
“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” a local resident told Reuters. “The windows and chandeliers all shook.”
The villages of Shanbe and Sana have been heavily damaged, a Red Cross official told Reuters.
The Bushehr nuclear plant, which is located just 11 miles southeast of the city, remains unaffected.
“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor, personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” an official with Atomstroyexport, the Russian company which built the facility, told RIA Novosti.
The Governor of Bushehr, Fereydoun Hassanvand, has also confirmed that the plant is undamaged.
People on social media reported feeling the quake in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There were no immediate reports of damages.
Gulf Arab countries and Western experts have voiced concerns about the Bushehr plant, which is built in a heily seismic area. Iran has repeatedly denied allegations that it could be unsafe.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said during a 2012 visit to the facility that it was indeed safe.
“I, as the head of the [inspection] team, assure the Iranian society that Iran’s installations are safe,” Head of the IAEA’s Nuclear Safety and Security Department, Olena Mykolaichuk, said in a statement.
Bushehr, which is home to around 160,000 people, is located on Iran’s southwestern coastal region. The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said in December another plant is slated for construction next to the Bushehr plant.
Iran extends across several major faults in the earth’s crust, and is prone to frequent earthquakes. In August 2012, two quakes in Northwestern Iran claimed the lives of 306 people and injured more than 4,500 others.
Earlier Tuesday, Iranian state TV announced that the country has begun operations at two uranium extraction mines and a new uranium production facility.
The announcement comes amidst a heated international row surrounding Tehran’s nuclear intentions.
The US and its allies claim that Iran is using the program as a cover to secretly build a nuclear weapon. Tehran denies the allegations, stating that its nuclear endeavors are for purely civilian purposes. The Islamic Republic says its nuclear program is necessary to produce energy, as well as isotopes for research and medical devices.