By: Bijan Rohani

The recent earthquake in Bushehr Province has triggered concern regarding the Bushehr Nuclear Plant. However, just a few hours after the earthquake hit the province, plant officials and the Bushehr governor announced that the nuclear plant has not been in any way damaged. Iran then proceeded to send a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming that the Bushehr Nuclear Plant was indeed undamaged.

The agency's Incident and Emergency Centre (IEC) announced that, according to the IAEA's International Seismic Safety Centre (ISSC), the agency was informed that an earthquake had struck southern Iran about 91 kilometres from the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and that Iran had informed the IEC, reporting that no damage had been sustained by the plant and no radiation had been released from the facility into the environment. According to the IAEA, based on this report and the research and analysis carried out by the ISSC, and in view of the magnitude of the quake and other details of its seismic parameters, there is no need for further investigation of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant. The IAEA report thus confirms assurances issued by plant officials to the effect that there are no health risks linked to the plant due to the earthquake.

Nuclear Power Plants and Unexpected Events

The security of nuclear power plants against various natural and human events is one of the most important concerns that arise when a plant is built anywhere across the globe. Damage to a power plant results in the release of hazardous rays and radioactive material into the environment. Such a catastrophe can claim untold numbers of human lives and have a negative long-term impact on survivors and the natural environment.

The 2011 tsunami in Japan damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant and caused the release of radioactive material into the surrounding area. It is considered one of the world’s worst atomic disasters since Chernobyl. The Fukushima incident triggered widespread debate about the security of nuclear plants in the event of an earthquake.

After its own crisis, Japan shut down its nuclear plants for some time to make them comply with stricter security standards.

Is Bushehr Nuclear Plant Secure Enough?

Since the Fukushima disaster, many have questioned how secure the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant really is and how well it can weather earthquakes and natural phenomena. According to officials at the Iran Atomic Agency, the power plant is completely secure against earthquakes and is in no way comparable to Fukushima. Nasser Rashtkhah, the head of National Nuclear Security, cited technical differences between the two power plants as the reason that what happened in Japan could never occur in Iran. He said Iran is unlike Fukushima in that the steam from the heated water never comes in contact with the atomic fuel; therefore, releasing the steam would not contaminate the environment with radiation.

Iranian officials also stress that the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant can withstand earthquakes with a magnitude as high as 8 on the Richter scale. It is equipped with shock absorbers mounted on plastic that’s 112 inches thick. Furthermore, the concrete main building could withstand the crash of a Boeing 747, fighter jets and earthquakes measuring 8 on the Richter scale.

Fault lines Around Bushehr Nuclear Plant

A number of fault lines are located at various distances from the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant with the potential to produce earthquakes of varying strength. The most important ones are the Kazeroon, Berazjan, Karehbas, and Mangorg Fault lines as well as a number of hidden lines. Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is 110 km from the earthquake-prone region of Kazeroon and 150 km from a similar region in Firoozabad. Therefore, experts maintain that there is the potential for earthquakes of up to 7 on the Richter scale hitting the region in a time span of 200 years. According to the International Seismic Research Institute in Iran, the recent earthquake in Bushehr was caused by activity along the Kazeroon fault line at a depth of 10 kilometres near the towns of Kaki and Dashti.

Warnings and Preparations for Nuclear Events

Last September, the head of National Crisis Management announced plans to establish “nuclear emergency” centres in Bushehr and Esfahan Provinces. He said at the time that nuclear incidents will require specific emergency services. The first such centre would be launched in Esfahan and the second in Bushehr. They will offer services such as radiation identification as well as human and environmental decontamination.

Two years ago, a Bushehr MP expressed the concerns of his constituency about possible nuclear disasters in their province and he wanted government assurances that the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant was secure. He had also expressed concern about certain technical difficulties that the plant was facing at the time and he urged officials to refrain from launching the power plant before they were resolved.

The officials have emphasized, however, that the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant was built in compliance with international standards and its safety has been certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Despite all assurances and the high standards of safety and engineering used in power plants around the world, environmental activists have warned against surprise incidents and the formidable human or natural events that might yet lead to another nuclear disaster.



[translated from the original in Persian]