Iran’s only operating nuclear power plant, Bushehr, has been temporarily shut down, the country’s authorities say, without giving details. The reason for the mysterious “emergency shutdown” is not clear, which raises serious safety concerns on both sides of the Arabian Gulf.
The Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation says “a technical defect” in the power plant led to the plant being temporarily shut down and disconnected from the national electricity grid. There was no clarity from Iranian officials on the nature of the technical defect. They only said that it would be repaired in “the next three to four days.”
The incident is the latest in a series of incidents affecting Iranian sensitive infrastructure, especially nuclear facilities. An attack on the Natanz nuclear complex in April, which was blamed on Israel, as well as a number of other attacks on Iranian targets, have always been described as “accidents.”
In the past 12 months, a number of fires and explosions have hit other infrastructure and petrochemical plants. In July last year, a massive fire broke out in the shipyard near the Bushehr power plant.
These ‘accidents’ underscore Iran’s apparent inability to ensure basic safety standards in such sensitive facilities which may lead to serious consequences not only for Iran but also, and mainly, for the neighbouring Gulf countries.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials have for long expressed concerns that a serious nuclear accident at the Bushehr plant would spread radiation throughout the region, as the plant is closer to some GCC capitals than it is to Tehran.
These warnings echo similar concerns that had been raised about the safety of Japan’s nuclear plant at Fukushima, which suffered major damage in the wake of the massive 2011 earthquake, which led to spread of radiation and prompted closure of the plant.
Like Japan, Iran is also well known for earthquakes. Over the years, thousands of people there have died and several areas completely destroyed in massive quakes. In April 2014, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck the city of Bushehr, close to nuclear power plant, killing dozens of people.
GCC national emergency officials met in Riyadh few days after the earthquake to discuss potential repercussions including potential radiation spreading throughout the Arabian Gulf.
The then- GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif Al Zayani, said the group has “previously warned against the danger of the nuclear reactor of Bushehr and the possible nuclear leak and its harmful effect on the environment in the Gulf.”
Fortunately, there was no damage to the plant at that time. However, all remain concerned that we might not be this lucky next time. According to international experts, the risk of radiation from the Bushehr plant, if there is an accident, is “extremely high to the GCC states.”
Studies and analyses suggest that any leak from the plan will affect the GCC’s water supplies especially desalinization plants operations, the environment and the shipping of oil and natural gas and other maritime goods and services.
The Bushehr emergency closure comes as Iran and world powers continued negotiations in Vienna on renewing the nuclear deal.
The talks are an opportunity to ensure that Iran is committed to stringent and internationally- accepted safety measures under the strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran must also be transparent in its reporting of such serious incidents.