Iranian officials have ordered residents of its third largest city to evacuate, raising new concerns about a potential leakage of radioactive material from a nuclear facility.
An edict issued on Wednesday told residents in Isfahan, a provincial capital of 1.5 million people 340 miles south of Tehran, to leave the city “because pollution has now reached emergency levels,” the BBC reported.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq and former editor of the Middle East Quarterly, said: “Pollution in Isfahan is a problem but in the past, Iranian authorities [responded] by closing schools and the government to keep people at home and let the pollution dissipate. Mass evacuations suggest a far more serious problem.”
Rubin added that a “radiation leak” is a possibility, the Washington Free Beacon reported, noting that the evacuation order may corroborate previous reports of radioactive leakage.
The Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan converts yellowcake into uranium oxide, uranium metal, and uranium hexafluoride. The plant sits on an active fault line, and Isfahan has been heavily damaged six times by earthquakes, according to the Free Beacon.
A report in November claimed a radioactive leak might have poisoned several workers at the plant. The head of Iran’s Medical Emergency Agency told reporters at the time that staffers at the facility “have observed some symptoms and are receiving treatment.”
In December, Tehran denied reports of a radioactive leak, and accused the West of fabricating the story, the Jerusalem Post reported.
According to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, Deputy Governor-General of Isfahan Province for Political and Security Affairs Mohammad Mehdi Esmayeeli said “some Western media are just seeking to create tumult in the society through such moves.”
But Rubin added that given the threat of earthquakes in Iran, “a devastating nuclear accident is only a matter of time.”
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, but the Islamic Republic is widely thought to be seeking to develop nuclear weapons.