Luxembourg hands out iodine pills over fears of French nuclear mishap

The extraordinary measures were announced on Wednesday this week

Tony Paterson
Friday 17 October 2014 17:36
Comments
The pills were handed out after a number of mishaps at the Cattenom nuclear power station
The pills were handed out after a number of mishaps at the Cattenom nuclear power station

A series of accidents at France’s controversial Cattenom nuclear power station has prompted the government in neighbouring Luxembourg to take the unprecedented step of issuing free iodine pills to its half a million citizens to help protect them in the event of a serious nuclear incident at the plant.

The extraordinary measures were announced on Wednesday this week by Luxembourg’s Interior Minister Dan Kersch, who said they were designed to “prevent panic” and the likelihood of a “rush” on the country’s chemists in the aftermath of an accident at Cattenom. “The keywords here are ‘early precaution’,” Mr Kersch said.

The announcement was accompanied by photographs published by Luxembourg’s media showing boxes of 65 milligram Potassium Iodide pills that will shortly be distributed to the public. All the boxes were stamped with the warning: “Only to be used in the event of a nuclear accident,” written in red.

Taking large amounts of iodine in the aftermath of a nuclear accident is referred to as “blocking”. The measure is designed to prevent the thyroid gland storing additional radioactive contaminated iodine and the subsequent risk of thyroid cancer.

France’s Cattenom power plant is located in the Lorraine region close to the Luxembourg border. France and Belgium already have an iodine pill provision scheme for people living close to the plant. The government in the neighbouring German state of Saarland has also issued every locality in a 25 kilometre radius of Cattenom with its own supplies of iodine.

The plant, which consists of four pressurised water reactors, went online in 1986 and remains one of France’s most productive nuclear reactors. But a series of accidents, which last year culminated in the deaths of two workers, have brought renewed demands for its early closure from France’s neighbours and provoked demonstrations by anti-nuclear groups. In Germany, Cattenom is widely referred to as the “problem” power plant. German media reports said one of its reactors had to be taken off stream last weekend to enable workers to repair a defective pipe system.

“We want to do everything and exert political pressure to ensure that Cattenom is shut down as soon as possible,” said Saarland’s Social Democrat Interior Minister Reinhold Jost this week. In September, French and German anti-nuclear campaigners held a demonstration at Cattenom demanding its immediate closure.

In February 2013 two workers carrying out routine maintenance in a reactor building at Cattenom died after a platform on which they were working became detached and dropped several metres to the floor. Another worker was seriously injured. Two further incidents occurred at the plant three months later.

Germany is hoping that a new French energy bill passed in Paris last week will bring about Cattenom’s closure although the plant is scheduled to stay open until 2050. The new legislation aims to cut the amount of nuclear power on which France relies from 75 to 50 per cent by 2025.

While Cattenom’s fate remains undecided, France is on course to shut down two of its older nuclear reactors in 2016 when a new plant in Flamanville on the Normandy coast comes into operation.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in