Belgium to give iodine pills to entire population in case of nuclear disaster

'We know they don't really have a grip on the terrorist situation in Belgium,' a Green Party MEP has said

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Belgium is changing its rules to hand out iodine pills to all of its citizens because of concerns over a potential nuclear disaster.

The government's health minister has told the Belgian government to issue everyone within a 100km radius of the country's nuclear power plants with the pills, which help to limit the effect of radiation on the body.

Maggie De Block has said the pills for Belgians within a 20km radius should be extended to five times that distance in a distribution that would essentially cover the whole country.

The move is thought to be in response to the possibility of a Fukushima-like meltdown, but Isis-linked terrorists in Belgium have also been reportedly planning to build a ‘dirty’ nuclear bomb. A senior Belgian nuclear official was also reportedly monitored by suspects linked to the 13 November Paris attacks.

Some UK politicians have questioned the power plants' vulnerability to terrorist attack, saying nuclear was "never a safe technology".

Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for south west England, told The Independent that handing out iodine pills was "absolutely not" a solution to the risks of nuclear power.

"There are so many other isotopes apart from iodine which come out as well. Stronium-90 sits in your bones, ticking away," she said.

"The solution is not to have nuclear power. Nuclear power was never a safe technology."

Ms Cato said there was the risk of terrorist threat to the nuclear reactors in Belgium and the UK was also too reliant on nuclear power.

"We know they don't really have a grip on the terrorist situation in Belgium and we know that terrorists have had links to the nuclear power plants there," she said.

"While other countries have reduced their nuclear power, in Britain that debate after Fukushima was not had and we still have Hinkley and so on."

In Belgium, Jean-Marc Nollet, from the green policy Ecolo Party, welcomed the move but said the use of nuclear power needed to be limited.

"The government is finally accepting the recommendation of the Health Ministry. Given the population density and the risk of a nuclear disaster, this was absolutely necessary,” he told La Libre.

“The only solution is to respect the original plan and not extend the lifespan of Doel 1 and Doel 2 [the country's nuclear power plants] and suspend the restarting of the cracked reactors at Doel 3 and Tihange 2, which has been requested by Germany, Luxembourg and many ordinary citizens."

Radiation leaks cause radioactive iodine to gather in the thyroid gland and decay at a half-life of eight days, damaging internal organs. Taking iodine pills fills the thyroid with stable iodine which is harmless instead.

The move in Belgium highlights the concern in government about the safety of its two active power plants.

Germany asked "critical questions" in December last year after hairline fractures and a water leak caused the Doel 3 reactor near Antwerp to be shut down, while more cracks were found at the Tihange 2 reactor near Liège.

The country is also still reeling from the terrorist attacks on Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station.

Iodine pills would not limit all the effects of a explosion or leak at the plants.

Other dangerous radioactive elements include stronium-90, plutonium-241 and caesium-137.

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