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Gholamreza Massoumi referred to “accidents” at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, where yellowcake is converted into highly toxic uranium hexafluoride. (file photo)
A rare expression of concern about Iran’s nuclear sites and their impact on human health has been made by the head of the country’s accident and medical emergency center.

“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.
Nasrin Sotoudeh defended political activists, opposition members, and juvenile offenders on death row before she was jailed in September 2010.
Jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has reportedly been on hunger strike for more than a month, appears determined to continue her protest indefinitely.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, has written on his Facebook page that Sotoudeh told him on November 20 that she was on an "unlimited" hunger strike.

"I asked her, 'How long will you continue your hunger strike?'" he wrote. "She said: 'The hunger strike is unlimited. You know what 'unlimited' means?'"

Khandan said he was allowed to meet Sotoudeh one day after she was transferred from solitary confinement to the general ward of Section 209 at Tehran's notorious Evin prison. He said that his wife's weight had dropped to 43 kilograms.

Whenever he is allowed by the authorities to visit, Khandan has informed the public about the conditions of his jailed wife via Facebook, which has in recent years become a platform for news that is censored or ignored by Iran's state-controlled media.

Sotoudeh, who was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought this year, defended political activists, opposition members, and juvenile offenders on death row before she was jailed in September 2010.

She was sentenced to six years in prison and banned from working as a lawyer for 10 years on charges that include acting against Iran's national security and spreading propaganda against the Islamic regime.

Sotoudeh's courage and outspokenness have earned her the respect of many people in Iran and abroad and turned her into a symbol of resistance against the establishment.

A mother of two, Sotoudeh reportedly stopped eating in mid-October after prison authorities prevented her relatives from visiting her. Her husband and 12-year-old daughter have also been barred from leaving Iran.

"I can't sit here and do nothing and let them do whatever they want with my child and family," Sotoudeh was quoted by her husband as saying in their prison meeting this week.

An October 24 editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" likened Sotoudeh to Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also once separated from her children.

Iranians seeking to express solidarity with Sotoudeh, whose first name means "jonquil" in Persian, have posted images of that white flower on their social-media profiles in recent weeks.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.

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