Joins the Netherlands and Germany in providing citizens with free anti-radiation pills.
Belgium has begun distributing 4.5 million boxes of potassium iodide tablets to pharmacies to be handed out free to all citizens in the event of a nuclear emergency.
The threat of a nuclear disaster has other European countries worried. The Netherlands has ordered millions of iodine pills for its own citizens, and the German city of Aachen, fearing an incident at the nearby Tihange power plant, is now distributing the radiation blockers to its 500,000 residents.
Belgium has two nuclear power plants, operating seven reactors: the Doel 4 reactor near the northern Dutch-speaking port of Antwerp, and a second in French-speaking Liege province in the south.
The country has decided to phase out nuclear power and its antiquated reactors by 2025.
Meanwhile, that’s a lot of years for the threat of a catastrophe to hang over the country.
Two suicide bombers, Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui, had planned attacks on Belgian nuclear power stations following the terrorism attack in Brussels in March of 2016.
And two years earlier, saboteurs damaged the Doel 4 nuclear reactor, which forced a temporary shutdown of the facility.
Additionally, there have been dozens of what are downplayed as “minor incidents,” including the ultrasonic detection last year of numerous new “micro cracks” in the nuclear reactors at both Belgian plants.
Although Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said “there is no specific risk for now,” the government has created a special website to explain to its 11 million citizens what to do in case of a nuclear disaster — including taking iodine pills, which can lessen the effects of radiation.
During a nuclear catastrophe, radioactive iodine (Iodine-131) is released and can accumulate in the thyroid gland, causing thyroid cancer. Taking potassium iodide before or at the beginning of exposure can prevent thyroid cancer, according to the World Health Organization. Iodine-131 caused 5,000 thyroid cancer deaths after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.