DUBAI (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake killed four people in southern Iran on Tuesday close to the country’s only nuclear power station, state television and agencies reported.
A Red Cross official said two villages had been heavily damaged by the magnitude 6.3 quake but the Russian company that built the Bushehr plant said the reactor was undamaged.
Offices in the capitals of Qatar and Bahrain were evacuated after the quake, whose epicentre was 89 km (55 miles) southeast of the port city of Bushehr, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
The shock was also felt in financial hub Dubai, according to Reuters witnesses and messages on Twitter.
Gulf Arab countries and Western experts have voiced concerns about the Bushehr plant, built in a highly seismic area. Iran has repeatedly rejected concerns it could be unsafe.
State television gave no further details of the four casualties.
Thousands of people live near the nuclear plant and the villages of Shanbe and Sana, whose populations are less than 2,000 each, suffered serious damage, Red Crescent official Morteza Moradipour told state news agency IRNA.
The Russian company that built the nuclear power station, 18 km (11 miles) south of Bushehr, said operations at the plant were unaffected.
“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at Atomstroyexport as saying.
A local Iranian official, who asked not to be identified, said the quake had been felt in Bushehr, but added: “I don’t think anything happened to the Bushehr power plant as it happened outside Bushehr city.”
One Bushehr resident said her home and the homes of her neighbours were shaken by the quake but not damaged.
“We could clearly feel the earthquake,” said Nikoo, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “The windows and chandeliers all shook,” she said by telephone.
Tuesday’s quake was much smaller than the 9.0 magnitude one that hit Japan two years ago, triggering a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled the Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.
Iran is the only country operating a nuclear power plant that does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, negotiated after the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl which contaminated wide areas and forced about 160,000 Ukrainians from their homes.
Western officials and the United Nations have urged Iran to join the safety forum.
Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Regan Doherty in Doha, Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Parisa Hafezi in Ankara; Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Boyle