Tihange nuclear power plant in Liège. Photo courtesy of: The Express and Getty Images
The Belgian government has decided to issue the pills – which reduce a build up of radiation in the thyroid gland – to all households within a 100km radius of a nuclear plant to protect the population against an attack.
Fears of a ISIS dirty bomb attack have prompted the move after it emerged the Brussels bombers may have been targeting a nuclear power plant.
The decision, which was extended from all households within 20km of a nuclear plant, was announced by Belgium’s health minister Maggie De Block following advice from an expert council.
Distribution of iodine pills will protect all of Belgium’s 11million population, covering local nuclear power plants in Doel, Mol, Tihange and Fleurus, as well as Borssele in the Netherlands and Chooz in France.
The pills will be sent to pharmacies and the public would be ordered to collect their ration in the event of a meltdown.
Children, pregnant women and those breast-feeding would be given priority.
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Belgian MP Jean-Marc Nollet said: “Given the population density and the ongoing nuclear risk, this widespread distribution was absolutely necessary.
“But we must be cautious – the fact that everyone receives tablets doesn’t mean the nuclear risk no longer exists.
“What’s more, the catastrophic sanitary, environmental and economic consequences do not go away because we’ve handed out pills.”
Fears of a nuclear attack in Belgium were raised after it emerged jihadists secretly filmed a senior Belgian nuclear official.
The surveillance, which was found in a raid after the Paris attacks, has been linked to the Brussels bombers Khalid and Ibrahim El Bakraoui.
ISIS terrorists killed 32 people in twin bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station last month.
The key figure in the suspected dirty bomb plot is Mohammed Bakkali, 28, from Brussels, who has been arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Molenbeek cell that planned the Paris attacks.
Police who raided his wife’s flat found a 10-hour video filmed opposite the home of a nuclear executive at a centre in Mol, northern Belgium.
Documents relating to a German nuclear base were also found in the flat of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam.
Investigators found the cache of files in his Molenbeek hideout after a dramatic raid ended the terror suspect’s four months on the run after 130 people were murdered in Paris.
Fears of a nuclear attack were also raised following the murder of a nuclear power plant security guard days after the Brussels attacks.
The victim’s security pass was reportedly stolen but Belgian authorities denied a link to a terrorist plot.
Neighbouring Germany and the Netherlands have also expressed concerns over Belgium’s ageing nuclear plants that have been subject of repeated safety warnings, including defects in pressure vessels and fires.
Last week Germany asked the 40-year-old Tihange and Soel 3 reactors be turned off “until the resolution of outstanding security issues”.
Belgium’s official nuclear safety agency (AFCN) rejected the request, insisting the two plants “respond to the strictest possible safety requirements”.