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    President’s visit to Abadan refinery is a real blast

    The frequency of incidents has sparked speculation of sabotage, but most observers attrubute the rash of fires and explosions to poor maintenance and lax safety standards.

    Both the Fars and Mehr news agencies said the explosion Monday occurred while Ahmadi-nejad was at the massive refinery, but at a different location than the one he was visiting. The state news agency, however, said the blast occurred after Ahmadi-nejad had left.

    Varying news reports said the explosion killed one or two people.

    News reports attributed the blast to a gas leak. But none of the reports identified the location of the explosion within the refinery. It was not even known if the explosion occurred in the newest part of the refinery or an older part.

    The Abadan refinery is Iran’s first. It is almost 100 years old. It is sited on the waterway that forms the Iran-Iraq border and was heavily damaged during the 1980-88 war so that most of the refinery is actually less than 20 years old.

    Monday’s explosion was the 15th fire or explosion in the last 12 months to shake the Iranian oil industry.

    Back on August 4, another explosion hit a plant only days after Ahmadi-nejad had been present to inaugurate it. Five men were killed when a blast erupted from a gas leak while workmen were welding an ethane pipeline at the Pardis petrochemical plant in Assaluyeh port on the Persian Gulf coast.

    One month ago, in the most recent incident before this week’s, a major explosion and fire shut down three of the country’s gas trunk lines—the same three trunk lines that were shut down by another explosion eight weeks earlier.

    Pipeline breaks are a common problem in Iran, and pipeline repair is a well-practiced skill. Officials said all three trunk lines were back in operation in about 36 hours. The damage from the February explosion was fixed in 39 hours, officials said.

    The government did not say what caused either the February or April explosions at a sensitive point where three huge 56-inch diameter pipes come together.

    Majlis Deputy Parviz Soruri, a member of the National Security Committee, asserted the cause was sabotage, although he provided no evidence for that. The government has not blamed any of the 15 damaging incidents on sabotage. Officials were quick to say the Monday Abadan explosion was not sabotage.

    Poor maintenance is blamed by many observers for most of the problems.

    No opposition group has claimed responsibility for any of the damaging incidents.

    Speculation about foreign sabotage has been sparked by the fact that most of the incidents have occurred at the country’s borders. Only the two Qom explosions and one previous explosion at Arak have happened deep inside the country.

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