"The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) will shortly discuss a plan to move the capital from Tehran," SNSC chief Hasan Ruhani was quoted as saying by the Hayat-e No newspaper.

Ruhani said a plan to move the capital, which lies on a major seismological fault, was proposed by the SNSC in 1991, "but due to resistance from certain entities in the establishment, the plan was halted".

Even before the 26 December quake in Bam, which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale and killed more than 30,000, seismologists had warned that a strong earthquake in Tehran would have catastrophic consequences for the city of 12 million people.

Bahram Akashah, professor of geophysics at Tehran University, said a quake of similar magnitude to that in Bam would kill more than 700,000 people.

Government buildings would be destroyed, leaving the state powerless to respond.

Proposal

"The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) will shortly discuss a plan to move the capital from Tehran"

Hassan Rohani
SNSC chief

Akashah has written to President Muhammad Khatami to propose moving the capital to the central city of Esfahan, which was the country's capital in the late 16th century under monarch Shah Abbas the Great.

The capital was moved to Tehran in 1788.

Tehran was last hit by a major earthquake in 1830, but seismologists say a major fault line is located along the base of the Alborz mountains in the north of the capital.

Numerous small tremors jolt the city each year.

The Aftab-e Yazd newspaper on Monday reported Health Ministry estimates that a quake measuring 7 on the Richter scale would destroy 90% of the city's hospitals.

Ruhani said the SNSC would update its 1991 proposal on moving the capital and submit it for consideration by the end of the Iranian calendar year in March 2004.

He did not say to where the capital could be moved.