BRUSSELS – A recent cyber attack on Iran's nuclear program could have triggered a disaster comparable to the one in Chernobyl 25 years ago, Russia's envoy to NATO said Wednesday.
Dmitry Rogozin urged NATO to join Moscow in investigating who created and unleashed the mysterious and destructive computer worm known as Stuxnet. The virus hit Iran's nuclear facilities last year, temporarily crippling its uranium enrichment program, which can make both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.
Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze the activity, which it says it needs to create fuel for a future nuclear power network.
Rogozin told journalists at NATO headquarters that the virus could have caused the control system of Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor to malfunction, leading to the release of poisonous radioactive dust into the atmosphere, as happened in Chernobyl.
"The virus which is very toxic, very dangerous, could have had very serious implications," Rogozin said. It "could have lead up to a new Chernobyl."
Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded in 1986, spewing radiation over a large swath of northern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation fallout in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Related health problems still persist.
"This is a security-related issue," Rogozin said. "We insist that we have an investigation with the NATO-Russia Council."
The council, which meets each month, groups the alliance's 28 states and Russia to discuss security issues and to coordinate responses.
Rogozin, who attended the panel's meeting on Wednesday along with Russia's military chief, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said greater cooperation is needed between NATO and Russia in cyber defense. The former Cold War rivals already are cooperating closely in other fields such as missile defense, the war in Afghanistan, counter-narcotics, the battle against terrorism and maritime piracy.
The Bushehr power nuclear plant was completed with Russian help after years of delays.
U.S. government experts and outside analysts say they have not been able to determine who developed the malware, short for malicious software, or why.
Associated Press correspondent George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.