The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, denied what he called “rumors” about building a nuclear site under the Zagros Mountains separating central and western Iran, without mentioning the Natanz facility, after American experts said it was expanding at a greater depth than that of the fortified Fordow complex.
The Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, quoted Eslami as saying that the media reports regarding the construction of the nuclear site under the mountains adjacent to the Natanz facility, are “bogus repetitions that Israel has been saying for years.”
He added that whenever Israel finds itself “stuck in difficult situations in the region, it intensifies these psychological operations.”
He added that “Iran is working under the IAEA safeguards, and whenever it wants to start new activities, it will coordinate with the IAEA, and act accordingly,” Eslami said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
A report by the Associated Press said that the regime was building a deep underground nuclear facility near the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, close to the Natanz nuclear site, with experts claiming development “is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites.”
Photos and videos from Planet Labs PBC, cited in the report, showed that Iran has been digging tunnels in the mountain near the Natanz nuclear site.
A different set of images analyzed by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reveals that four entrances have been dug into the mountainside, two to the east and another two to the west. Each is 6 meters (20 feet) wide and 8 meters (26 feet) tall.
It is not the first time that an underground site has been revealed near the Natanz facility. In January 2021, while US President Joe Biden was preparing to enter the White House, the Washington-based International Institute for Science and Security revealed a set of images taken by the US Maxar satellites.
The Institute, which monitors sensitive nuclear activities, said that the authorities were building a new facility under the mountain to accelerate uranium enrichment.
Iran said at the time that the new facility would replace a damaged centrifuge manufacturing center.
The new Natanz facility is likely to be even deeper underground than Iran’s Fordow complex, according to the AP report.
“So the depth of the facility is a concern because it would be much harder for us. It would be much harder to destroy using conventional weapons, such as a typical bunker buster bomb,” Steven De La Fuente, a research associate at the center who led the analysis of the tunnel work, told AP.
Israel immediately commented on the report, threatening to launch a decisive strike on Iran if it continues to enrich uranium by more than 60 percent.
“This of course limits the capacity to carry out an attack, relative to above-ground facilities, which is of course easier. But what can be said about this matter is that there is nowhere that cannot be reached,” Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said, as quoted by Reuters.
The Israeli official declined to threaten an explicit Israeli attack and even suggested the onus would be on the United States, by noting that it has massive GBU-43/B bombs which are not in Israel’s arsenal.
But he added: “This (underground facility near Natanz) is years away from being completed.”