TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian authorities have prevented attempted sabotage at the country's heavy water nuclear reactor, a senior official said Saturday without giving specifics as to the nature of the attempted disruption or its suspected initiator.
Asghar Zarean, who heads security at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said domestic intelligence agencies were instrumental in uncovering the plot, which has not been the first attempt to disrupt the contentious nuclear program.
"Several cases of industrial sabotage have been neutralized in the past few months before achieving the intended damage, including sabotage at a part of the IR-40 facility at Arak," he said in a statement issued by his organization Saturday.
In the past, computer viruses have attacked Iranian nuclear facilities. While Zarean did not say whether that was the case this time, his comments coincided with the opening of a specialized lab Tehran says will fight industrial sabotage and neutralize cyberattacks.
"This specialized lab has been launched to identify, prevent and fight threats including modern software viruses," Zarean said.
In 2010, the so-called Stuxnet virus temporarily disrupted operation of thousands of centrifuges, key components in nuclear fuel production, at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Iran says it and other computer virus attacks are part of a concerted effort by Israel, the U.S. and their allies to undermine its nuclear program through covert operations.
Some Iranian officials have also suggested in the past that specific European companies may have sold faulty equipment to Iran with the knowledge of American intelligence agencies and their own governments, since the sales would have harmed, rather than helped, the country's nuclear program.
Since then, Iran has also said that it discovered tiny timed explosives planted on centrifuges but disabled them before they could go off. Authorities now claim the Islamic Republic is immune to cyberattacks.
The country has also reported computer virus attacks on its oil facilities, including one in 2012 that disabled Internet connections between the Oil Ministry, oil rigs and a major export facility.
The U.S. and its allies fear Iran may be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity and producing medical radio isotopes to treat cancer patients.