“We believe all of our emergency services should be trained and ready to face nuclear accidents,” Gholamreza Massoumi was quoted as saying by Mehr, the country’s semiofficial news agency.
Massoumi referred to “accidents” at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF), where yellowcake is converted into highly toxic uranium hexafluoride, saying: “People who have been in the region, for example -- Isfahan’s UCF -- have had some accidents for which they have been treated.”
Massoumi said that some employees at the Isfahan site had suffered from health issues and warned of “problems [that] civilians living close to nuclear sites could face.”
Other than saying that, so far, there haven’t been any accidents outside of “specific nuclear environments,” Massoumi gave no further details.
An unnamed “informed source,” however, was quoted by the Persian Service of the BBC as saying that inhalation of hexafluoride gas had caused respiratory problems for some of the personnel at the Isfahan facility.
Earlier this year, the head of Isfahan Province’s emergency services, Hamid Esmaili, said Iran’s first nuclear emergency service would be launched “in the near future” in Isfahan. At that point, he said the plan was in its final stages.
Massoumi’s comments were removed from the Mehr news agency’s website a few hours after being published. Iranian news agencies often remove stories that are deemed too sensitive.
The safety of Iran’s nuclear sites is almost never discussed in Iran’s tightly censored state media.
Last year, exiled Iranian religious scholar Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari called for a debate on the issue. He told RFE/RL that nuclear safety and the potentially damaging consequences that nuclear plants and facilities can have on people's health and the environment are subjects that have long been missing from discussions about Iran’s nuclear program.