German city hands out iodine pills to prevent cancer in preparation for a nuclear disaster

A picture taken on May 9, 2016, shows the nuclear Belgian power plant of Tihange near Huy. The Dutch government has ordered 15 million iodine pills to protect people living near nuclear plants in case of an accident, officials said on April 29, as concerns rise over ageing reactors across the border in Belgium. Last week Germany asked that the 40-year-old Tihange 2 and Doel 3 reactors be turned off "until the resolution of outstanding security issues", which Belgium rejected, saying the plants were subject to "the strictest possible safety requirements". / AFP / JOHN THYS (Photo credit should read . JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

A German city near the border of Belgium is preparing for the worst: a nuclear fallout.

Officials in Aachen are getting ready to hand out potassium iodine pills in case of an accident at a nuclear power plant that sits across the border.

The Tihange power plant, which sits across the border in Belgium, is less than 70 kilometres away from the town. According to Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster, a recent inspection using ultrasound technology has found 70 new micro-cracks in the aging reactor.

Belgian officials say there’s no indication that radiation could leak out, but there have been shutdowns because of the micro-cracks at Tihange and at Belgium’s other plant, Doel.

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“For more than two years we’ve been worried about the reactor cracks getting bigger — the population has been very worried,” Rita Klösges, acting spokesperson for the Aachen municipality, told the BBC.

“We had talks repeatedly with Belgium about this — the mayor of Aachen was involved too. But we didn’t get them to shut down the reactors.”

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In June this year, residents formed human chains to protest the continued use of the power plants,

Participants of the anti-nuclear “Chain Reaction” demonstration build a human chain to protest against the operation of Belgium’s Tihange 2 and the Netherland’s Doel 3 nuclear power plants on June 25, 2017 in Aachen, western Germany,. HENNING KAISER/AFP/Getty Images)

Residents in the town and surrounding areas can register for coupons to get iodine tablets starting Friday, the BBC reports. That amounts to about 500,000 people.

Each person can get a pack of six pills; the average initial dose for an adult under 46 years old is two pills. The pills are not recommended for people over 46 years of age because of complications.

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“The pills work by saturating the [thyroid] gland with an iodine dose, so that any cancer-causing radioactive iodine will not enter,” the BBC explains.

Normally, pills are only handed out in the event of a disaster, but Neutsche Welle reports that the city of Aachen realized it wouldn’t have enough time to distribute them once a disaster occurs.

“That’s how we had the idea of supplying a large part of the population with iodine tablets in advance,” Markus Kremer, Aachen city spokesperson, told Deutsche Welle.

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“In everything we’ve done so far, we’ve tried to find a sensible way of communicating the necessary information. On the one hand, there is absolutely no point in people panicking, but we also don’t want to downplay the risks.”

Germany wants to shut down all its nuclear reactors by 2022. Belgium is planning to shut down Tihange by 2023, the BBC reports, with the rest of the reactors closing by 2025.

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