A mysterious shutdown of Iran’s only nuclear power plant has fueled speculation about the cause and raised questions about the safety of the Russian-built reactor.
Iranian officials quoted in state media described an “emergency shutdown” of the Bushehr nuclear power plant on the coast of the Persian Gulf and within 120 miles of the glittering cities of the oil-rich Arabian Peninsula.
Officials were quoted as attributing the shutdown of the 1,000-megwatt light water reactor on Sunday to an unspecified technical error and saying it would take several days but did not provide any further details.
“Indeed it caused a technical error [the nuclear power plant] from the electrical circuit, “the spokesman for the electricity company Mostafa Rajabi-Mashhadi was quoted by the state. “It will be connected to the circuit after further repairs.”
Sensitive Iranian nuclear and military sites have been repeatedly subjected to sabotage, believed to have been carried out by agents linked to Iran’s foreign opponents, including Israel. But the Iranian power grid is also under enormous pressure because entrepreneurs use powerful computers to mine Bitcon and use air conditioning in the hot, early summer weeks.
Gholamali Rakhsanimehr, an official at the electricity company, said on Sunday that half of the electricity consumed in the capital, Tehran, goes to mining cryptocurrencies, and that 3,000 computers searching the internet for bitcoin were found and confiscated last week. Iran is known as one of the world’s leading users of cryptocurrencies and is reportedly using Bitcoin and other emerging electronic currencies to evade American sanctions.
Iran is currently in negotiations with the United States and other world powers over the restoration of a 2015 nuclear technology and non-proliferation agreement that was abandoned by former American President Donald Trump, who imposed a crippling series of sanctions on Iran in order to grant Tehran win at the negotiating table.
While Bushehr is not at the center of discussions on the nuclear deal, some non-proliferation specialists have raised concerns that Iran could potentially extract weapons-grade plutonium from the spent fuel rods. It is powered by reactor-grade fuel rods brought in and out of the country by Russian engineers – employees of the Rosatom Company – under the terms of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Nuclear Monitor.
Russia and Iran have already started building two more reactors in the extensive Bushehr facility.
Partly because of the Bushehr shutdown, the country is threatened with a power shortage of 1,000 megawatts, even though it is one of the largest oil and natural gas producers in the world.
The Bushehr power plant is the first functioning civil nuclear power plant in the Middle East. It was first connected to the Iranian grid a decade ago and has been shut down for scheduled fuel rod replacement and maintenance, but never for an unexpected emergency. It is located in one of the most seismically active regions in the world, a fact that gets on the nerves both in Iran and in the countries bordering the Persian Gulf.