Iran to build more nuclear reactors in quake zone

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Tehran has announced controversial plans to build more nuclear reactors in an earthquake-prone coastal area facing its Gulf Arab neighbours, a day after a powerful tremor struck near Iran’s only atomic energy plant.

The 6.3 magnitude quake hit 55 miles south-east of the port of Bushehr, killing 37 people and injuring more than 900 as it flattened 12 villages and damaged dozens more. The dead included eight young children.

The nuclear power plant near Bushehr – which Iran insists is “quake proof” – escaped unscathed. Within hours, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said more reactors would be built there.

Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani declared the Bushehr site capable of holding six power reactors and that construction of two more units of at least 1,000 megawatts would start there in the “near future”.

Dozens of powerful aftershocks – including one yesterday morning of a 5.2 magnitude – meant terrified residents in the area were expected to spend a second night in the open.

After pulling 20 people from the rubble, Iran’s Red Crescent said it was confident no more survivors were trapped in shattered buildings and wound up its search and rescue effort.

Iran was keen to reassure jittery Gulf Arab states and the international community that the Bushehr nuclear power plant was not damaged.

The facility’s chief engineer, Mahmoud Jafari, told Iranian television that “no operational or security protocols were breached”. The Russian company that helped to build the plant offered similar reassurances.

The Bushehr reactor is in an earthquake zone at the juncture of three tectonic plates, but is designed to withstand a tremor of magnitude 8, experts said.