DUBAI – A powerful earthquake struck close to Iran’s only nuclear power station on Tuesday, killing 30 people and injuring 800 as it devastated small villages, state media reported.
The 6.3 magnitude quake totally destroyed one village, a Red Crescent official told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), but the nearby Bushehr nuclear plant was undamaged, according to a local politician and the Russian company that built it.
“Up until now the earthquake has left behind 30 dead and 800 injured,” said Fereydoun Hassanvand, the governor of Bushehr province, according to ISNA.
Many houses in rural parts of the province are made of mud brick, which can easily crumble in a quake.
Across the Gulf, offices in Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicenter was 89 km (55 miles) southeast of the port of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The early afternoon shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai.
Abdulkarim Jomeiri, a member of parliament for Bushehr, told IRNA that “the distance between the earthquake focal point and the Bushehr nuclear power plant was about 80 km and, on the basis of the latest information, there has been no damage to the power plant.”
The Russian company that built the nuclear power station, 18 km (11 miles) south of Bushehr, said the plant was unaffected.
“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.
One Bushehr resident said her home and the homes of her neighbors were shaken by the quake but not damaged.
“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” said Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “The windows and chandeliers all shook.”
Tuesday’s quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.
Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and forced about 160,000 Ukrainians from their homes.
Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.
Tehran has repeatedly rejected safety concerns about Bushehr – built in a highly seismic area – that began operations in September 2011 after decades of delays.
Iran sits on major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 which flattened the southeastern city of Bam and killed more than 25,000 people. In August more than 300 people were killed when two quakes struck the north west.
A report published last week by U.S. think-tanks Carnegie Endowment and the Federation of American Scientists said that “ominously” the Bushehr reactor sits at the intersection of three tectonic plates.
“Iran’s sole nuclear power plant is not at risk of a tsunami similar in size to the one that knocked out the electricity and emergency cooling systems at Fukushima. But, repeated warnings about the threat of earthquakes for the Bushehr nuclear plant appear to have fallen on deaf ears,” the report said.
The quake happened on National Nuclear Technology Day when Iran’s leaders celebrate the technological advances they say will reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, leaving more of its abundant oil for export.
Israel, Gulf Arab states and many Western countries fear Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and the Islamic Republic is under international sanctions aimed at forcing it to curb some of its atomic work.
Iran denies it wants nuclear arms and says its atomic work is for electricity generation and other peaceful uses. (Reuters)
By Yeganeh Torbati and Marcus George
(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Regan Doherty in Doha, Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Hemming)