Belgium is getting ready to issue iodine pills to its entire population of 11 million people, according to reports. The plan comes in response to rumors and fears that ISIS-linked bombers may have a “dirty nuclear bomb” in the works. As NBC News reports, it was just a few months ago that it was discovered that a top scientist may have been spied on by some of ISIS’s bomb makers, and Belgium has been reeling in the aftermath of both terror attacks and the discovery that it was home to sophisticated terror cells.
Maggie De Block, Belgium’s Health Minister, told reporters on April 28 that Belgium is to issue the iodine pills in an attempt to limit the effects of radiation on the populous in the event of a nuclear attack.
The plan to issue the iodine pills, which has yet to be officially finalized by Belgium’s government, was developed as part of a review of the nation’s nuclear-related emergency protocol. That review was initiated following Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, said De Block.
However, between the time that Belgium began its nuclear review and the announcement that Belgium would be issuing iodine pills to its citizens, Belgian officials made a startling discovery. On November 30, 2015, authorities raiding the home of suspected terrorist Mohamed Bakkali (who is now in custody on charges related to last year’s Paris terror attacks) found a video that appears to show a senior Belgian researcher being spied on. The scientist who was secretly filmed is employed at a research center that produces a “significant portion” of the world’s radioisotopes.
Since the video was found, it has emerged that it was recorded by Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, brothers who were involved in March’s terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium.
In addition to concerns over potential nuclear terror attacks in Belgium, the country is planning to issue the iodine pills because of concerns related to the nation’s crumbling nuclear energy infrastructure. Two of Belgium’s reactors are 40-years-old.
Belgium’s isn’t the first government to issue iodine pills to protect its residents from nuclear fallout. Many foreign governments issue iodine pills, along with some U.S. states (including New York and California). Iodine pills work by filling up the thyroid and preventing absorption of radioactive iodide.
Belgium’s plan to issue iodine pills was originally much smaller. Officials had planned to issue the pills only to those living closest to the decades-old Doel and Tihange nuclear power plants. However, following the the discovery of the ISIS-related nuclear spying film, Belgium’s government expanded their planned distribution of iodine pills to include the entire country, said De Block.
“Before, the iodine pills were only been given to people living in a perimeter of [14 miles] — now we are going to take measures for people within [62 miles]. We will provide iodine pills in the whole country. It is not linked with the safety of our nuclear plants. The recommendation came after Fukushima…because obviously after Fukushima, we have more information regarding nuclear risks.”
While Belgium isn’t the first nation to hand out iodine pills to its citizens, experts are divided regarding the idea.
Potassium iodide, of which the pills are made, doesn’t protect against other radioactive elements. The iodine pills also come with risks and side-effects. The side-effects range from mild to potentially life-threatening allergic reactions and can include rashes, gastro-intestinal problems, and even inflammation of the salivary glands, according to the CDC.
In the United States, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recommended that individual states “consider” dispensing iodine pills at their own discretion rather than being required by the federal government.
Among countries that do dispense iodine tablets to their citizens, there are different manners of handling the distribution. Germany, for example, stockpiles iodine pills at various distribution locations to be handed out to citizens in the event they are needed. Other countries, such as Sweden and France, distribute the iodine pills directly to the populous so that citizens will have them on-hand in the event of a nuclear emergency.
What do you think? Is Belgium’s plan to issue iodine pills a good idea or is it overkill?
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