Satellite imagery indicates that there was an explosion at Iran’s Parchin military research, development, and production facility on 5 October, raising fears about safety precautions at a site where nuclear weapons research allegedly has been carried out.
The Iranian opposition website sahamnews.org reported that an explosion took place at Parchin at 23:00 local time (19:30 GMT) on 5 October and was so large that it blew out windows in buildings 15 km away. Iran’s Defence Industries Organisation subsequently told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that two of its workers had been killed in a fire, but did not confirm there had been an explosion or explain the cause of the accident.
Satellite imagery captured by Airbus Defence and Space on 7 October suggests an explosion did occur at one of the facility’s internal complexes. Comparisons with imagery from February and August 2014 indicate that two buildings were either completely destroyed in the incident or so badly damaged that they were razed the following day.
Several other structures up to 300 m away from the two destroyed buildings suffered varying degrees of damage, indicating an explosive event at one or both of the destroyed buildings resulted in material being projected through the air.
Most of the visible damage to the structures is minor and limited to their roofs, but some show signs of far more significant damage, suggesting chemicals or explosives detonated inside them as a result of the event. Mysteriously, a large building just to the east of the two destroyed structures appears undamaged.
Some of the debris thrown out by the explosion was probably removed from the surrounding area in the clear-up operation that was visibly under way when the satellite imagery was acquired at 11:15 (07:45 GMT) on 7 October.
The structures at the affected complex are not surrounded by the earth berms that are normally erected around facilities where munitions are being tested or stored to minimise the impact of any accidents.
The same issue was apparent at a facility near Bid Kaneh, where an explosion killed Major General Hassan Moqaddam, a leading figure in Iran’s missile programme, and several others on 11 November 2011.
Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz clarified earlier claims about the nature of the research that is suspected to have been carried out at the Parchin complex in September, when he said his country had “highly reliable information” that Iran had conducted tests on internal neutron initiators for nuclear weapons at the facility. “The use of such material has no 'dual use' explanation since the only possible use for internal neutron sources is to ignite the nuclear chain reaction in nuclear weapons,” he said.
Tehran is under intense international pressure to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect Parchin, but it has refused all such visits since 2005 and insists the facility is only engaged in conventional military activities.