Belgium is to provide iodine pills to its entire population of around 11 million people to protect against radioactivity in case of a nuclear accident, the health minister was quoted as saying Thursday.
The BBC reported that Health Minister Maggie De Block explained that the entire population will be issued with the pills, which protect against radiation in case of a nuclear threat, as a precaution following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
“Every country has updated its plans for a nuclear emergency”, the Health Minister told Belgian TV, but it is unclear what the similarities between Belgium’s nuclear safety and Japan’s disaster, which happened when an earthquake led to a tsunami and all three reactor cores largely melted down.
Iodine pills, which help reduce radiation build-up in the thyroid gland, had previously only been given to people living within 20 kilometres (14 miles) of the Tihange and Doel nuclear plants.
Health Minister Maggie De Block was quoted by La Libre Belgique newspaper as telling parliament that the range had now been expanded to 100 kilometres (60 miles), effectively covering the whole country.
The head of Belgium’s French-speaking Green party, Jean-Marc Nollet, backed the measures but added that “just because everyone will get these pills doesn’t mean there is no longer any nuclear risk,” La Libre reported.
Last month eleven of the reactor’s staff had their security passes revoked as the country went on high alert after warnings that Europe-based jihadists linked with Islamic State plotted a radioactive bomb attack.
A senior nuclear official was secretly filmed by jihadists late last year and the el-Bakraoui brothers, who were behind the terror attacks on Brussels airport and Metro which killed 32 people, are believed to have been involved in the plot to scatter radioactive material over a populated area. The footage raised fears that the Islamist terror group wanted to kidnap or capture the man to gain access to materials for a dirty bomb.
The ten-hour video of the official, who had access to radioactive isotopes at the country’s national nuclear research centre, was found by police raiding Mohammed Bakkali’s wife’s flat last November. Bakkali was arrested months after taking part in Paris’ Bataclan terror attacks and was also involved in the planning of the Brussels attacks.
Political figures are playing down any links between the plan to issue precautionary tablets and the threat of terrorism in Belgium, which has a large Muslim population. Belgian Green MP Jean-Marc Nollet said that if given pills, the “environmental and economic consequences of a nuclear accident” would still remain.
Germany, who began to phase their own nuclear reactors out in 2013 and as a result now import nuclear energy from France, last week requested the country turn its reactors off altogether. They are placing the same pressure on Belgium to close their ageing Nuclear plants.
The reactor pressure vessels at both sites have shown signs of metal degradation, raising fears about their safety. They were temporarily closed but resumed service last December.
Belgium’s official nuclear safety agency (AFCN) rejected the German request, saying the two plants “respond to the strictest possible safety requirements.”
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