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Belgium to widely distribute iodine pills

April 29, 2016

Belgium's Health Ministry says it will provide iodine pills to its population in case of an accident at one of its atomic plants. Technical problems with aging reactors have caused tension with neighboring Germany.

Belgien Atomkraftwerk Tihange
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Belgian Health Minister Maggie De Block was quoted Thursday by the La Libre Belgique newspaper as telling parliament that people living within a 100-kilometer (60-mile) radius would be provided iodine pills as protection in case of a radiation leak.

Iodine supplements, which help reduce radiation buildup in the thyroid gland, have previously been given to people living within 20 kilometers of the troubled Tihange and Doel nuclear plants.

But because of Belgium's relatively small size - it's only 300 kilometers at its widest point - the expanded range would effectively cover the majority of Belgium's 11-million population.

The leader of Belgium's French-speaking Green party, Jean-Marc Nollet, backed the iodine pill distribution scheme but added that "just because everyone will get these pills doesn't mean there is no longer any nuclear risk," La Libre Belgique reported.

Public outcry over aging reactors

Belgien Demo Tihange Atomkraftwerk
Public demonstrations were held last month calling for the decommissioning of aging reactors which service checks revealed had alarming defects in reactor pressure vesselsImage: DW/G. Rueter

There was no mention in the proposal of including the 240,000 people in the German city of Aachen - 71 kilometers from the Tihange reactors. The proximity of the plant has been a source of friction between Belgium and Germany.

Germany asked last month that the 40-year-old Tihange 2 and Doel 3 reactors be turned off "until the resolution of outstanding security issues."

Pressure vessels at both reactor sites have shown signs of metal degradation, raising fears about their safety. They were temporarily closed but resumed service last December.

Belgium's nuclear safety agency (AFCN) rejected Berlin's request, claiming that the two plants "respond to the strictest possible safety requirements."

It insists that its reactors, despite technical faults and an unsolved sabotage incident that occurred at around the time of the terror attacks in Brussels, comply with stringent international safety standards.

jar/kms (AFP, dpa)