Belgium offers radiation-busting tablets for all as EU anti-nuclear alliance builds

Anyone living within 100kms of one of Belgium's nuclear plants will have access to free iodine tablets. [Shutterstock]

Belgian pharmacies will provide radiation-busting iodine tablets free-of-charge to anyone as part of the country’s new nuclear strategy, while Benelux partner Luxembourg has come out fighting against atom-smashing.

Belgium’s Interior Minister Jan Jambon has confirmed that iodine tablets, which counter the effects of nuclear radiation and help prevent thyroid cancer, will now be freely available in all pharmacies across the country.

As part of the new Nuclear Emergency Plan, which came into force on Tuesday (6 March), iodine tablets must be made available to everyone within 100 kilometres of a nuclear power station, effectively covering the whole country.

Anyone living in the direct vicinity of a nuclear facility will be required to keep tablets in their homes.

Massive human chain protests ageing Belgian nuclear reactors

50,000 people from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands formed a cross-border 90 km-long human chain on Sunday (25 June) to protest against the controversial Tihange nuclear power plant. Micro-cracks were recently discovered in one of the facility’s reactors.

It is not the first time that Belgium’s ageing nuclear reactors have stoked safety concerns. The German city of Aachen, which is close to the Tihange power plant, started distributing iodine pills in September last year.

Both Tihange and Doel, in the southeast and north of Belgium, respectively, have proved to be controversial after micro-cracks were detected in both facilities and their operation spans were extended beyond their original lifespans.

A report by a Dutch safety watchdog in February, while not commenting on the actual safety of the Belgian plants, warned that current cross-border cooperation leaves a lot to be desired and that a nuclear incident would “not run smoothly”.

Cross-border nuclear cooperation must improve, Dutch watchdog warns

The Dutch Safety Board has concluded that cross-border cooperation on nuclear safety between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany leaves a lot to be desired. A new report warns that the current state-of-play could lead to “confusion and unrest” among the population in the event of an incident.

The report also criticised the differences between radiation treatment measures and evacuation plans, so Belgium’s decision to distribute iodine can be seen as an attempt to harmonise with its neighbours.

Luxembourg backs Austria

At Monday’s meeting of environment ministers, Luxembourg’s green chief, Carole Dieschbourg, revealed that the Grand Duchy will join Austria in suing the European Commission for granting Hungary permission to expand its Paks nuclear plant.

Luxembourg’s government decided during a cabinet meeting on Friday that it would join the case.

“We are going to actively support Austria’s claim,” she told reporters, adding “it is important that no public funds be invested in nuclear power. It is definitely the wrong way.”

Dieschbourg and her Austrian counterpart, Elisabeth Köstinger, said they would try to build a sort of pan-European anti-nuclear alliance and that the next step would be taken at a meeting of German-speaking ministers in the spring.

Austria sues over EU approval of Hungary nuclear plant

Staunchly anti-nuclear Austria lodged a legal complaint with the European Court of Justice yesterday (22 February) against the EU’s approval of the expansion of a nuclear plant in neighbouring Hungary.

They revealed that they will highlight the economic costs and improper promotion of nuclear energy at the meeting, which will be attended by their German, Swiss and Liechtenstein colleagues.

Austria is staunchly anti-nuclear and held a referendum on the issue that meant an already-constructed plant was mothballed without generating a single watt of power.

French atoms

At the same environment council, French ecology minister Brune Poirson said that she would only be able to support a nuclear phase-out in her country and Belgium if similar efforts were made by Germany and Poland to ditch coal power.

Ministers were discussing the concept of a carbon floor price, which is intended to make emissions trading efforts more effective. Green MEPs Bas Eickhout and Claude Turmes insisted that France would have to accelerate its nuclear phase-out in order to dispel accusations of protectionism.

In 2015, the French government said nuclear’s share of the energy mix should be reduced from its current 75% to 50% by 2025 but no real steps were taken to reach that target.

Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot, who was considered to be firmly in the anti-nuclear camp before he joined Emmanuel Macron’s team, confirmed in November that the 2025 target is now unrealistic and that a timeframe of 2030 or even 2035 is now on the cards.

France backtracks on nuclear phase-out pledge

The French government has postponed a long-held target to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the country’s power production after grid operator RTE warned it risked supply shortages after 2020 and could miss a goal to curb carbon emissions.

Subscribe to our newsletters