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More Belgians close to nuclear facilities get iodine pills

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As part of revising its nuclear emergency plan, the Belgian government says it will distribute iodine pills to more of its citizens in the event of a nuclear emergency, Health Ministry spokesperson Els Cleemput told CNN on Friday.

The Belgian government already provides emergency-use iodine pills to citizens living near nuclear facilities.

The High Health Council decided it would be beneficial to expand the radius of iodine pill distribution around the country’s nuclear sites from 20km (12 miles) to 100km (62 miles), while also focusing on the people who would be most susceptible to radiation illness, such as children, adolescents, pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding.

The European nation has seven nuclear reactors generating about half of its electricity. Belgium has never had a nuclear emergency, and officials say the country’s revision of its nuclear emergency plan has nothing to do with terrorism.

Revising its nuclear emergency strategy comes after the Belgium Ministry of Health and the Belgium Home Office assessed impacts of nuclear disasters in other countries.

Distribution of iodine pills has been used in the past to protect against radiation exposure. Potassium iodide in the pills blocks radiative iodine from affecting the thyroid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

FILE PHOTO) Iodine tablets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

FILE PHOTO) Iodine tablets. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

However, the government does not plan to distribute the medication across the whole country.

“We do not intend to give all Belgians iodine pills. No way,” Cleemput said. The reason is because certain populations don’t needed it. For instance, older people typically have enough iodine in their system, and will probably not need more.

Belgium has had a nuclear emergency plan since 2003. The updates are reflective of the availability of new technology, the need for new emergency planning and lessons learned from previous nuclear disasters, according to Cleemput.

The meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after a powerful earthquake and tsunami struck the nation in 2011 has served as a lesson for Belgian health officials, especially since nuclear facilities around Belgium continue to age. The country’s first commercial nuclear power reactor began operating in 1974, according to the World Nuclear Association’s website.

The affects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster continue to plague Japan. That nation has spent more than $1.5 billion collecting radioactive soil, and has hastily stored 800,000 tons of highly-radioactive water — enough to fill 315 Olympic-size swimming pools.

After the Fukushima plant leaked, Japanese officials started distributing iodine pills to residents who lived around the facility. Even people in the United States started purchasing the medication after Japan’s deadly 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

People should take iodide pills only after there has been a nuclear emergency and they’ve been instructed by public health or emergency management officials, the CDC states on its website.