Belgium distributes iodine pills in case of nuclear accident
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Belgium distributes iodine pills in case of nuclear accident

Government says medication part of wider preventative measures, assures ‘no specific risk’ to country’s 7 aging reactors

Illustrative: Steam is emitted from the cooling tower at the nuclear power plant in Tihange, southeast of Brussels on March 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)
Illustrative: Steam is emitted from the cooling tower at the nuclear power plant in Tihange, southeast of Brussels on March 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Belgium began Monday to make iodine pills available for free to its 11 million people, in case of an accident at its ageing nuclear plants, but said there was no “specific risk.”

The government also launched a website in the country’s official languages  — French, Dutch, and German — to inform people what to do in an emergency, as it began implementing plans announced two years ago.

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said his government aimed to “properly inform” the public, but said the plans were preventative.

“For now there is no specific risk with our nuclear plants,” Jambon told Belgian broadcaster RTBF.

Pharmacies interviewed by Belgian media said they had begun receiving some of the 4.5 million boxes of 10 iodine pills — which help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid gland — that were ordered by the government.

Belgium’s creaking nuclear plants have been stirring concerns at home and across its borders, after a series of problems ranging from leaks to cracks to an unsolved sabotage incident.

In this photo taken Aug. 28, 2017, a blister of iodide tablets is pictured in the hands of a member of the Vitr family in Aachen, Germany. (Rainer Jensen/dpa via AP)

In the last few years, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Germany have all raised concerns about the nuclear plants across the border in Belgium.

Two years ago the Dutch government ordered millions of iodine pills for its own citizens living near the border.

Belgium has seven nuclear reactors: four in Doel, near the major northern Dutch-speaking port of Antwerp; and three in Liege, in the southern French-speaking region of the country.

Benoit Ramacker, spokesman for the national crisis center, said Belgium launched in 1991 an initial series of emergency measures in case of a nuclear accident but only updated them once, in 2003.

With the latest plans, “citizens must also prepare to help themselves the day something happens,” Ramacker told RTBF.

Belgians, for example, can open an account on the website to get text message alerts on their mobile phones in the event of an emergency.

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