Iran calls blackout at underground atomic facility ‘nuclear terrorism.’ Israeli outlets blame an Israeli cyberattack.

Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, centrifuge Natanz uranium enrichment facility
This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. The facility lost power Sunday, April 11, 2021, just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster, the latest incident to strike the site amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. Iran on Sunday described the blackout an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions.

  • Iran blames a Sunday blackout at a nuclear facility on “nuclear terrorism.”
  • The country hasn’t assigned blame, but Israeli media has reported an Israeli cyberattack is responsible.
  • The attack comes as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, described a Sunday morning blackout at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility as an act of “nuclear terrorism.” The country fell short of assigning blame for the blackout, which occurred while negotiations continue between Iran and US-aligned nations over reinstating the nuclear deal.

Multiple Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, claimed that the blackout was caused by an Israeli cyberattack on the eve of Israel’s independence day. On Sunday night, embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to security chiefs, such as Mossad head, Yossi Cohen, asking them to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands.”

If Israel is responsible, the act threatens to continue to heighten regional tensions between Iran and America’s ally. Netanyahu also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday along with his Dfeense Minister, Benny Gantz.

The blackout came hours after the facility began to operate new centrifuges that can enrich uranium more quickly.

Salehi did not expand on how the blackouts had affected the atomic facility but said that the country plans to “seriously improve” its nuclear technology while trying to also lift international sanctions. Nuclear spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television that “there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem”

Iran’s nuclear program has seen many previous acts of international sabotage. In July,the Natanz plant experienced a mysterious explosion, and in November, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist was killed by a remote-controlled machine gun. Iran blames Israel for both and is now building a new facility underground, which was targeted in Sunday’s attack.

In 2010, the facility was attacked by the Stuxnet computer virus, destroying centrifuges at the Natanz plant. The virus is widely considered to be created by the US and Israel.

Israeli media reports, such as public broadcaster Kan, said that “experts” assume that Sunday’s attack shut down much of the facility. The reports did not cite their sources for the information.

After the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has stopped following formal limits on its uranium stockpile, now enriching up to 20% purity. This is still below the 90% purity needed to build weapons.

Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Earlier this week, an Iranian cargo ship that was connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast, which occurred in a hot zone near the conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Iranian- aligned Houthis in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli cover operations are responsible for over a dozen oil tanker attacks in recent years.

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The US had a plan in the 1960s to blast an alternative Suez Canal through Israel using 520 nuclear bombs

Israel canal plan
An annotated map of Egypt and Israel shows the placement of the existing Suez Canal and an approximation of plans for a canal through Israel discussed by the US in the 1960s.

  • A declassified memorandum reveals a 1963 US plan to create an alternative to the Suez Canal.
  • It would have excavated more than 160 miles through Israel’s Negev desert with nuclear bombs.
  • A cargo ship is currently stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking the vital shipping route.
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The US had plans to use 520 nuclear bombs to carve out an alternative to the Suez Canal though Israel in the 1960s, according to a declassified memorandum.

The plan never came into a fruition, but having an alternative waterway to the Suez Canal could have been useful today, with a cargo ship stuck in the narrow path and blocking one of the world’s most vital shipping routes.

According to the 1963 memorandum, which was declassified in 1996, the plan would have relied on 520 nuclear bombs to carve out the waterway. The memo called for the “use of nuclear explosives for excavation of Dead Sea canal across the Negev desert.”

The historian Alex Wellerstein tweeted that the plan would have been a “model proposal for the Suez Canal situation.”

The memorandum was from the US Department of Energy-backed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

It suggested that an “interesting application of nuclear excavation would be a sea-level canal 160 miles long across Israel.”

Conventional methods of excavation would be “prohibitively expensive,” the memo said. “It appears that nuclear explosives could be profitably applied to this situation.”

It said, however, that “such a canal would be strategically valuable alternative to the present Suez Canal and would probably contribute greatly to economic development.”

As part of the pricing model, the memorandum estimated that four 2-megaton devices would be needed for every mile, which Wellerstein calculated as meaning “520 nukes” or “1.04 [gigatons] of explosives,” he tweeted.

One possible route proposed by the memorandum stretched across the Negev Desert in Israel, connecting the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aqaba, opening an access to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The laboratory noted that there were 130 miles of “virtually unpopulated desert wasteland, and are thus amenable to nuclear excavation methods.”

This “crude preliminary investigation suggests that using a bomb to create a canal through Israel “appears to be within the range of technological feasibility,” the memo said.

But the memo conceived that one problem, which the authors had not taken into consideration, might be “political feasibility, as it is likely that the Arab countries surrounding Israel would strongly object to the construction of such a canal.”

The memo came as the US Atomic Energy Commission was investigating using “peaceful nuclear explosions” (PNEs) to dig out useful infrastructure, Forbes reported in 2018. There were also plans to use this method to dig out a canal in Central America, Forbes reported.

But the PNE project remained experimental, after the US found that 27 experiments with PNEs heavily irradiated the landscape. The Atomic Energy Commission was also abolished in 1974.

Meanwhile, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory still exists. According to its website, it is dedicated to “ensuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.”

The 1963 memorandum had also came less then a decade after the Suez crisis, a conflict for the control of the strategic waterway which was a defining event in the Cold War.

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