Several countries monitoring Iran's nuclear program have picked up information that the country's only power-producing nuclear reactor in Bushehr was damaged by one or more of several recent earthquakes.
Two diplomats told the Associated Press on Tuesday that long cracks have appeared in at least one section of the structure.
Iran was hit by two earthquakes, one in April and one in early May, both near the Bushehr plant. Iran insists the plant is technically sound and built to withstand all but the largest earthquakes unscathed. Officials in Tehran reassured the international community after both earthquakes that the facility was undamaged.
The diplomats, however, referred to recent restricted information gathered from the site, telling AP that one concrete section of the structure developed cracks several meters long as a result of the quakes.
Both diplomats are from member countries of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's nuclear program. They demanded anonymity because they are not allowed to divulge confidential information.
One of the two said that the cracks seen were not in the vicinity of the reactor core, which contains highly radioactive fuel, but said that the information available was limited to one section of the reactor, meaning damage elsewhere could not be ruled out.
Asked about the reports, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told AP, "I know nothing about Bushehr."
The Bushehr nuclear plant is not considered a proliferation threat, but some nations are concerned about how safe it is. Iran has refused to join an international nuclear safety convention and persistent technical problems have shut the plant for lengthy periods since it started up in September 2011.