Iran shuts down its only nuclear power plant in emergency, officials say only that there is a “technical fault”

Iran’s only nuclear power plant was temporarily shut down on Saturday (June 19), but officials did not explain what the technical fault was, except for a “technical fault” that needed to be fixed, the Associated Press reported, citing Iranian state-run TV sources. The nuclear plant is located in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr, the plant is called Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant.

Gholamali Rakhshanimehr, an official of Iran’s state-run electricity company Tavani, said in a television talk show broadcast on Sunday that the Bushehr plant had been shut down urgently since Saturday and that the shutdown would last “three to four days. Rakhshanimehr did not explain any reasons for the shutdown, saying only that the plant’s closure could lead to local power outages.

This is the first time Iranian authorities have announced an emergency shutdown of the Bushehr nuclear plant.

The Bushehr nuclear power plant, located on the Persian Gulf coast, was built in 1975 with German companies as the first contractors, and work was halted and German companies withdrawn after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. The plant was targeted by Iraqi military attacks during the Iran-Iraq war and was bombed several times, and in 1995 Iran contracted with Russia for Rosatom Export to be the prime contractor. However, due to a lack of funding and technology and political pressure from Western countries, construction of the plant resumed and was halted and delayed before it was finally completed in 2011 and began supplying electricity to Iran’s national grid.

After the Bushehr plant was completed and put into operation, the fuel rods in the nuclear reactor had to be shipped back to Russia after use, as part of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty measures.

A statement issued by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran at midnight Sunday revealed that the emergency shutdown of the Bushehr nuclear plant was due to a “technical failure. “Following a technical failure at the Bushehr nuclear plant, the plant was temporarily shut down and removed from Iran’s power grid after notifying the Energy Ministry a day in advance.” The statement also said the plant would be reconnected to the grid “in a few days” after the technical failure was removed.

The statement did not explain what technical faults the plant needed to troubleshoot.

The emergency shutdown of the Bushehr plant on Saturday came a day after Iran’s latest presidential election, in which hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s judicial chief, was elected president by a landslide. On Sunday, the emergency shutdown of the nuclear power plant was revealed as further progress was reported in Geneva in negotiations among diplomats from the five major countries (China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France) trying to bring the United States back into the Iran nuclear deal. The six major countries – the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany and France – reached an international agreement with Iran in 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons development in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against Iran in Europe and the United States. But after President Trump took the White House in 2016, he lambasted his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for being weak, withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reinstated, and strengthened, U.S. sanctions against Iran.

On Sunday, Iran’s state-run electricity company Tavani issued a statement claiming that the Bushehr nuclear plant was being overhauled and that the work would continue until Friday (June 25), but it did not specify what part of the plant or what equipment was being overhauled. The statement noted that people are urged to minimize their use of electricity during peak hours as temperatures are expected to rise and because the overhaul of the Bushehr nuclear plant is limiting the amount of electricity generated.

In March, an official named Mahmoud Jafari warned that the Bushehr plant could be shut down because Iran has been unable to procure parts for the plant from Russia after President Trump began financial sanctions over the Iranian nuclear issue in 2018.

The fuel used in the reactors at the Bushehr nuclear plant is Russian-produced uranium, not Iranian-produced uranium, and has been monitored by the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. The Associated Press reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been made aware of reports of the Bushehr nuclear plant’s closure, but declined to comment.

The Bushehr plant is located near an active earthquake zone fault, so steps were taken when the plant was built to allow it to withstand severe earthquakes. The plant does shake from time to time due to earthquakes, but there have been no recent reports of serious earthquakes in the area.