The Dutch are handing out iodine tablets to people that live near Nuclear Facilities

In a nuclear emergency, people can be exposed to radioactive iodine. Taking iodine tablets stops the thyroid gland from absorbing this dangerous substance, but only if the tablets are taken without delay. The Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has decided that people who would be at risk if there is a nuclear accident should always have iodine tablets available. That’s why it will be distributing iodine tablets in October 2017. This way, people at risk will be better prepared for a possible nuclear incident.

The government wants to make sure the Netherlands is well prepared for a nuclear emergency. On 2 July 2014 the Minister of Economic Affairs told parliament that iodine tablets should be distributed preventively in a larger region around nuclear facilities.

This means that the Netherlands will be taking the same precautions as the governments of our neighbouring countries Belgium and Germany. The decision is in line with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines.

On 12 July 2017 the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport decided iodine tablets would be issued in October 2017. In this major operation, the government will draw on the national stock of iodine tablets which it has been building up since 1987. This will save a lot of time and energy if there is a radiation emergency. It was one of the lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster in 2016. The iodine pills will be sent by post to around 1.2 million households.

In the week of 3 October 2017, eligible households in a 100km radius around a nuclear facility will receive information about this by post and through social media. The iodine tablets will be distributed over a two-week period starting on 9 October 2017.


Who will receive preventive iodine treatment?

Iodine tablets will be sent to people in one of two target groups:

  1. Anyone aged under 41, in a 20km radius around a nuclear facility.
  2. Children under 18, living in a 20-100km radius around a nuclear facility.

There are two reasons for the age difference between the target groups:

  • The distance from home to the nuclear facility.
    The greater the distance to the nuclear facility, the lower the exposure to radioactive material.
  • The way the thyroid gland works.
    The older people are, the less likely they are to get thyroid cancer from exposure to radioactive iodine.
    Children under 18 are at greatest risk. That’s why iodine tablets will be distributed to children in a wider area (in a 100km radius around a nuclear facility).
    The risk is slightly lower for people between 18 and 41 years old, so preventive action is only effective for this age group if they live 20km or less from a nuclear facility.
    People over the age of 40 do not have a higher risk of thyroid cancer if they are exposed to radioactive iodine. Besides, the risk of side effects from taking iodine pills increases with age.

Pregnant women of all ages living in a 100km zone around a nuclear facility can take iodine pills to protect their unborn child in the event of a nuclear accident. From 9 October 2017 onwards, they will be able to buy iodine pills from a chemist or pharmacy (recommended retail price €2.95).

Target groups and zones, per nuclear facility*

Facility location

Type of nuclear facility

0-41 age group and pregnant women

0-18 age group and pregnant women

The Netherlands

Borssele Nuclear power plant 0-20 km 20-100 km
Delft** Research reactor n/a 0-0,5 km
Petten** Research reactor n/a 0-3 km


Doel Nuclear power plant 0-20 km 20-100 km
Tihange Nuclear power plant n/a 20-100 km
Mol** Research reactor 0-20 km n/a


Emsland** Nuclear power plant 0-25 km 25-100 km

* Where the 0-20km or 20-100km zone cuts through a municipality, iodine tablets will be distributed to all the postcodes in that municipality.

** Different distances apply to the research reactors in Delft, Petten and Mol, and the nuclear power plant in Emsland, because of their capacity.

Predistribution of iodine tablets

Around 1.2 million households will receive iodine tablets over a two-week period in October. The tablets will arrive in a sealed cardboard box, stating the addressee’s name. Each box will contain 10 iodine tablets and an information leaflet.

General practitioners, obstetricians and gynaecologists will receive information from their professional associations about iodine tablets, how they work and where they can be obtained (chemists and pharmacists).

Special locations like schools, childcare centres or first aid posts will also be able to stockpile iodine tablets.

Emergency distribution of iodine tablets

The safety regions situated partly or entirely within the 100km zone around a nuclear facility must be ready for emergency distribution in the event of a nuclear accident.

They will have to set up points where people can pick up iodine tablets if there is still enough time. This includes tourists and people who have lost their own stock of tablets. The safety regions can use the nationwide model plan, so that emergency distribution is carried out as uniformly as possible across the country.

How iodine tablets work

Iodine is stored in the body’s thyroid gland, which uses it to make metabolic hormones. If the iodine is radioactive, it could cause thyroid cancer in the long term. Iodine tablets ‘fill’ the thyroid gland with stable iodine, so it cannot absorb the radioactive iodine, which is then excreted.

People must not take the iodine tablets until the authorities advise them to do so. This advice may be given at the same time as other measures in response to a nuclear accident, such as a regional evacuation order or instructions to go to a shelter. The advice will give information about who should take the tablets, where and when.

Iodine tablets should be taken shortly before exposure to radioactive iodine. This ensures a maximum blocking effect and protects the thyroid gland.

Iodine tablets only protect against radioactive iodine, not any other radioactive substances that may be released during a nuclear accident.

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