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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Mixed views near Iran nuclear site
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent, in Natanz

Natanz uranium enrichment site
The plant is heavily guarded, although most of it is underground
It is hard to imagine the sleepy provincial town of Natanz ever being at the centre of a conflict.

Home to about 40,000 inhabitants, it is the kind of place that closes down for a very long siesta after lunch.

But behind the craggy mountains overlooking Natanz - where Alexander the Great's troops once marched - lies Iran's most sensitive nuclear site.

Its anti-aircraft guns are visible from the main road, even though much of the plant is underground.

If there are ever military strikes on Iran, the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz is likely to be the first target.

People think there is a possibility they could attack any moment
Natanz inhabitant
Twenty five kilometers away in the town of Natanz the highlight of the week is the Thursday bazaar.

It is a modest affair with fruit and vegetable sellers sit on the floor selling their produce.

Natanz - some 250km (150 miles) south of Tehran - used to be known for its juicy pears from the orchards surrounding the town, but now it has a new kind of fame.

Good prospects

Atomic energy has put Natanz on the map.

Market traders in Natanz
The highlight of the week in Natanz - the Thursday market
"It makes us proud that the whole of the world has now heard of the name of our town because of the nuclear site," says vegetable seller Mr Rustami.

There is no sense of panic about the future in Natanz - like every town in Iran it is growing in size.

"It has got better here because young people can go to the nuclear site and find a job; it's made a big difference," says Mujtaba, a young trader at the bazaar.

"I have a question for Mr Bush," says Mohammad Javad. "Why shouldn't we have this technology if everyone else has it? If it's so good why shouldn't we have it?"

Then he adds that if everyone dies defending Iran's rights, he doesn't care as it's an investment for the future.

Wanting to leave

But the housewives shopping in the bazaar have a somewhat different view.

"As God is my witness we cannot sleep at night; every moment I think they are coming to bomb our city," says Soheyla, who's clad in an all enveloping black chador.

Natanz taxi
"People are worried, but they don't show it," says one woman
Her family moved to Natanz from Tehran 12 years ago and now she wishes she could afford to leave.

"All people here are worried but they don't say so or show it," she says. She refuses to allow us to take her picture for fear of getting into trouble.

"Let me tell you people in this town are worried and worn out," she says. "People think there is a possibility they could come and attack any moment because the foreigners know very well where this site is."

Soheyla's views are echoed by other women, but the fears here are vague and ill-informed.

Nobody talks about the possibility of radiation leaks if there were ever an attack. In public at least the men put on a brave face.

They simply won't admit they're worried because, in this deeply religious town, they say they trust in God to protect them.


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