A large blast at the big Parchin military facility associated in the past with nuclear warhead development was claimed by Iran’s defense ministry spokesman as occurring at a gas storage facility in the public area of the site – not the military base, 30km outside Tehran.
The explosion on Thursday night, June 25, sent orange flames and plumes of smoke shooting high in the sky. The spokesman said the fire had been extinguished and there were no casualties.
At around the same time, half of the Iranian city of Shiraz was blacked out by an explosion at the local power station. The two incidents – both under investigation – raised panicky concern on social media of a possible attack on the country.
The nuclear watchdog has for years been denied access to the Parchin military facility to investigate past allegations that it was used prior to 2004 for the secret testing of high explosive components for a nuclear warhead, which Tehran just as consistently denied.
Subsequently, on April 30, 2018, an archive seized by Israel in Tehran revealed that the Parchin site was a key part of Iran’s ongoing nuclear weapons research and development program.
This archive contained documentary evidence that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed the AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site.
Parchin was a key part of that program, used for a specialized, difficult to develop, neutron initiator to start the chain reaction in a nuclear explosion.
Some of the equipment is believed to be held ready for later use, potentially when Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with the six world powers expires.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency claimed its inspectors were still denied access to two sites suspected of nuclear activity on the grounds that Iran’s military facilities are out of bounds to external inspection.
A major explosion outside Tehran has triggered speculation of an attack against an army base or a research site, but the Iranian military says it was an incident at a gas storage facility.
The blast did not take place at a military site, but in the “public area” nearby, defense ministry spokesman Davoud Abdi told state TV late Thursday night, adding that the blaze was quickly brought under control and that there were no casualties.
According to a number of reports in state and semi-official media – citing both Abdi and the public relations manager of Tehran’s emergency management, Mir Shahabuddin Ghavami – no emergency services or ambulances were requested in the area following the blast.
For hours, details of the incident remained a mystery, fueling speculation and conspiracy theories, as Iranian TV reported only that the authorities were “investigating the bright light and loud sound” near Tehran.
Rumors initially suggested the explosion took place at a power station in Sarkh Hasar, east of Tehran, and that similar explosions had taken place in Shiraz, in southern Iran, prompting further speculation of a cyber attack.
Others suggested an explosion at an ammunition depot in Paradis, citing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) chatter on the messaging app Telegram.
New York Times journalist Farnaz Fassihi cited reports that the explosion occurred in Parchin, “a military base where Iran has conducted nuclear activity.”
The explosion was heard around 2am local time, just half an hour after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about new US sanctions against Iran.