- In case of a nuclear accident - Intake of iodine
- In case of a nuclear emergency - Evacuation
- What is radioactivity?
- The nuclear risk
- Iodine tablets at home
- Nuclear energy in Belgium
- Nuclear emergency plan
- In case of a nuclear emergency - Food and water
- In case of a nuclear accident- the right information
- In case of a nuclear accident - Sheltering
What if my iodine tablets are discoloured?
Yellow or yellow-brown spots on iodine tablets may be a result of the slow oxidation of potassium iodide to iodine. This has no impact on the functioning of the iodine tablets.
If you store your iodine tablets in their original packaging and in a suitable place (at room temperature and away from moisture and light), they will keep for a very long time. Like table salt, the iodine in tablets hardly decays. The amount of the active ingredient is more than enough to achieve the desired effect for many years.
Note: only remove iodine tablets from their packaging when recommended by the government.
I am (my children are) allergic to iodine. What if I am ill at the moment of the accident and cannot ingest anything or keep it down (fever, flu...) What should I do? Is it dangerous not to take iodine? Should I evacuate in that case?
If a nuclear accident occurs, you should know that:
- if you stay indoors, you are protected; it is dangerous to leave if you are just inside a radioactive cloud: follow the instructions carefully through the media.
- Health complications occur only in a small minority of people who become irradiated with radioactive iodine. The individual risk is low.
Do not take any other medicines to replace this iodine unless your doctor specifically recommends this.
How do I determine the right dose and how long does an iodine cure last?
There are several drawings on the packaging and in the leaflet that indicates how much iodine you have to take for each age category.
Based on these drawings, you can determine the right dose for each family member. There are different doses for adults, children, babies, pregnant women and breastfeeding women.
The authorities will inform you via various channels (BE-Alert, radio and television) whether or not you should take iodine tablets. This recommendation may be limited to a specific zone or a particular population group, such as pregnant women or young children.
Even in the event of a major nuclear accident, chances are that you only need to take the recommended dose once. Iodine tablets have a protective effect with a duration of at least 24 hours. Of course, you have to stay inside, with closed windows and doors, so you don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to radioactive dust particles.
Listen to the government recommendations carefully.
Can my baby take iodine? How should I give him / her this? What should we do if the baby refuses to drink this iodine? Can I still breast-feed after the child has taken iodine?
Yes, babies should be protected against radioactive iodine. The younger you are, the more important it is to protect you by taking iodine tablets. This government directive therefore certainly applies to babies.
The recommended dose and other information can be found in the detailed information leaflet in your box of iodine tablets.
If your baby refuses to drink from the bottle with milk or fruit juice in which you have dissolved a quarter (baby of maximum one month old) or half an iodine tablet (baby older than one month), then try again later. If the baby continues to refuse it, which is unlikely, no panic, because:
- the fact that you stay inside eliminates most of the risk.
- the iodine that you take yourself will be partly found in your milk, which offers a certain protection, which can even be sufficient.
Normally there is no reason to interrupt breastfeeding. To ensure that children under one month of age do not receive too high a dose of iodine, it is sometimes recommended to be extra careful and to drain the milk for 24 hours, to dispose of this milk and to give baby powder milk during that period. After 24 hours you can continue breastfeeding.
If you inhale iodine at sea, do you still have to take these iodine tablets?
The intake of iodine tablets remains necessary anyway.
The iodine that you breathe at the sea, or iodine that is present in some foods such as fish or shellfish already offers a certain protection. However, its protective effect is insufficient in case of a nuclear accident.
If I get sick after taking iodine tablets (I vomit, I get a skin rash, ...), what should I do? And also, what if a child has taken several tablets?
Iodine tablets are not very toxic. The intake of multiple tablets - even by children – is not very dangerous.
The side effects are usually not serious: you don’t have to do anything, just wait until it passes and certainly don’t take iodine again! If the problem persists or if the person's condition worsens, contact your doctor.
If a child has taken several tablets, do as you would for any medicine: ask your doctor, pharmacist, or call the anti-poison centre (070 / 245.245).
Do I have to avoid certain foods when I take iodine (e.g. mussels, shellfish, fish, alcohol, herbs, ...)?
Carefully read the leaflet that you find in the packaging of your tablets; it contains all available information.
Never take iodine tablets on your own initiative. Follow the instructions of the government carefully.
It is always good to consume foods rich in iodine (fish, crustaceans, iodized salt, ...), since our diet generally shows a shortage of iodine.
How should I take those iodine tablets?
Never swallow the tablets just like that. Dissolve them in a large glass of lukewarm water.
If you want to eliminate the unpleasant taste, use milk or fruit juice.
The tablets do not dissolve easily. Break them in pieces, grind them and stir in the glass.
Do not forget to check the dose for each person of the family on the package leaflet.
I’m suffering from a certain disease (disorder of the thyroid gland or any other condition). Can I take iodine tablets?
A list of situations in which you are not allowed or shouldn’t take iodine can be found in the information leaflet that is included in every pack containing iodine tablets.
If you have any doubts, talk to your doctor about it. This is the safest solution.
What are the possible interactions of iodine with other medicines? I take a certain medicine (for a thyroid disease, a disease, or other medical reasons, e.g. contraceptive methods). Can I take iodine tablets?
Iodine tablets have very few interactions (which have an impact on health) with other medicines.
A list of situations where iodine intake is discouraged can be found in the package leaflet in each package containing iodine tablets.
In principle, the intake of iodine tablets has no influence on contraceptive methods such as the pill or any other contraceptive device.
Do not hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice about the medicines you are taking.
If, at the time of a nuclear accident, I am at a football match or in a cinema, who will give me my iodine tablets?
We’ve asked all the community facilities within 20 km around the nuclear sites (10 km around IRE) to provide iodine tablets for visitors and staff.
A "community facility" is any place where several people can be present for a long time and does not constitute a family or a household.
In the event of a nuclear accident, the responsible person of the community facility will ensure the distribution of the iodine tablets to everyone present.
In addition, a stock of iodine tablets is available in each operational unit of the Civil Protection. These entities can also distribute the tablets in the event of a nuclear accident.
The tablets must only be taken at the express recommendation of the government.
If there is a nuclear accident in one of our neighbouring countries, can I take my iodine tablets?
Only take iodine tablets if the Belgian government expressly recommends this, also in the case of a nuclear emergency in one of our neighbouring countries with consequences for the Belgian territory.
In such a case, the government will closely monitor the situation and, if necessary, provide the appropriate recommendations (possibly including taking iodine tablets).
In the event of a nuclear accident, I must immediately go inside and close windows and doors to prevent radioactive dust particles from entering. Why do I still have to take iodine tablets?
By closing windows and doors you prevent, as much as possible, radioactive dust particles from entering the home.
Despite this measure, a limited amount of dust particles will always penetrate your home, for example via ventilation systems, cracks, etc.
We therefore recommend taking iodine tablets, even if you are staying indoors, to protect the thyroid against radioactive iodine.
Please note: only take the iodine tablets when the government recommends it.
Why is taking iodine tablets less appropriate for people over 40?
Taking tablets that saturate your thyroid gland with stable, non-hazardous iodine is often less appropriate in that age group for two reasons:
- The risk of thyroid cancer due to radioactive iodine decreases as you age.
- People over 40 years of age often have thyroid gland disorders, especially in iodine-poor regions like Belgium. This disorder increases the risk of unwanted side effects when taking iodine tablets.
When the thyroid gland is severely disturbed, which is more common with ageing, the disadvantages of tablet intake (unwanted effects) can be greater than its benefit (avoidance of thyroid cancer).
You can ask your doctor or specialist about the advantages and disadvantages of taking iodine tablets.
40 years is in line with current knowledge and the expected recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO). This also takes into account the more than probable simultaneous application of the sheltering measures. Sheltering is an effective protection regardless of age.
How much time do I have to take iodine tablets (or to take other protective measures)?
Iodine tablets only work if you take them at the right time. They are best taken just before or as soon as possible after the release of radioactive iodine. Wait for a recommendation from the government, informing you of the best time to take the iodine pills, so the tablets have maximum efficiency. It is important that you follow their recommendations as closely as possible.
It is possible that this recommendation may be limited to a specific zone or part of the population, for example pregnant women and young children.
Even in the case of a nuclear emergency in one of our neighbouring countries, with consequences for the Belgian territory, only take your iodine tablets as expressly recommended by the Belgian authorities.
How do iodine tablets work? Why are iodine tablets useful?
In case of a nuclear accident, radioactive iodine can be released. It can enter the blood through the airways or when eating contaminated food.
The thyroid gland (located in the neck) stores this radioactive iodine. Irradiation of this organ increases the risk of cancer and other disorders of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid cannot distinguish between radioactive iodine and ordinary iodine. By saturating the thyroid gland with regular iodine early enough, you ensure that no radioactive iodine will be stored in your body.
Iodine tablets contain only normal, harmless iodine. They give your thyroid, as it were, an overdose of iodine, so that the inclusion of dangerous radioactive iodine is blocked.
Who should better not take iodine tablets?
Like most medicines, iodine tablets are not suitable for a small minority of people. These are people who are allergic to iodine, who suffer from a rare skin disease or who already have or have had thyroid problems.
The package leaflet provides a complete overview of all cases in which the use of the tablets is better avoided.
If you belong to one of these exceptions or if you have doubts, contact your doctor or specialist. He/she will give you advice and tell you if you can take iodine tablets.
In case of a nuclear or radiological accident, if I am in a supermarket, a shop or in a petrol station, etc., will I be able to find iodine tablets?
All businesses and / or companies in a nuclear emergency planning zone have been requested to pick up iodine tablets at the pharmacy. They can use that stock help the people present at the moment of a nuclear accident.
In the event of a nuclear accident, we can also count on the stock of iodine tablets that the Civil Protection can distribute.
I have to stay inside but do not have iodine tablets at home. What should I do?
In most accident scenarios, there are several hours between the first signs of a problem at a plant and the first radioactive release.
The government will use this time to inform the population, to distribute the available stocks of iodine and, if necessary, to ask the population concerned to get tablets from the pharmacy.
If you do not have iodine tablets at the time the government advises you to take shelter, stay inside. Sheltering offers the fastest and most effective protection in case of a nuclear incident.
Listen carefully to the recommendations for the population.
As a precautionary measure, we advise you, as a resident of the 20 km zone around a nuclear site (or 10 km around the IRE), to collect iodine tablets at the pharmacy. Children under the age of 18, pregnant women and breast-feeding women should also take that precaution. On presentation of your eID you will receive the necessary amount of iodine tablets.
Does these tablets provide full protection?
Iodine tablets only offer protection against radioactive iodine. To protect yourself against the other radioactive substances and against the radiation emitted, you have to take shelter: stay inside and keep windows and doors closed.
Iodine tablets are most effective when taken at the right time. Follow the recommendations of the government on this matter.
The fact that you have taken iodine tablets does not mean that you can go outside in a radioactive cloud. The best protection is sheltering.
What if my culture or religion forbids me to take iodine tablets?
Persons who for religious (or other) reasons refuse to take iodine tablets cannot be obliged to do so.
The possible adverse consequences are then at their own risk.
What are the interactions of iodine with e.g. alcohol, tobacco, etc.?
Iodine is a substance that is slightly irritating to the stomach. Tobacco and alcohol have the same effect. We therefore advise against taking iodine with alcoholic beverages.
Are there any side effects in children or persons under the age of 40?
Yes, that's possible. But these side effects are only temporary and very innocuous in nature (such as vomiting, bad taste, ...).
In exceptional cases, iodine intake may lead to hypersensitivity reactions such as skin redness, fluid retention, neck pain, running eyes, cold symptoms, swelling of the salivary glands and fever. The symptoms normally disappear without any treatment when taking iodine tablets is no longer necessary. If in doubt, you can consult your doctor.
The slight risk of hypersensitivity reactions is not an argument for not taking iodine tablets.
When should I take the iodine tablets? Who will inform me when to take them in case of a nuclear accident?
Taking iodine tablets is only useful in case of a nuclear accident. Therefore, store the tablets carefully. Never take the tablets on your own initiative, instead wait until the government recommends it.
If a nuclear accident occurs, first go inside or stay inside and close windows and doors.
The authorities will inform you via the media and / or BE-Alert whether or not you should take iodine tablets. The recommendation may be limited to a specific zone or a certain population group, such as pregnant women or young children.
At what distance from the nuclear installations can people be evacuated?
In terms of emergency planning for evacuation, the Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Plan for the Belgian Territory establishes an emergency evacuation zone of:
- 10 km for the nuclear power stations of Doel, Tihange and Chooz (France) and Borssele (Netherlands)
- 4 km for the nuclear installations in the Mol-Dessel region (the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, Belgoprocess and Belgonucléaire).
Considering the industrial activities on the IRE site (production of radio elements) and the specific radiological risk associated with these activities, it’s unlikely that an evacuation of the population outside the site would be necessary. Therefore, no evacuation measure of the surrounding population has been foreseen in the national nuclear emergency plan.
Within the aforementioned zones, the evacuation measure has been prepared in order to be able to act quickly and effectively in the event of an actual accident situation.
In case of a real emergency situation these zones can be fine-tuned on the basis of the estimates of the consequences of the accident.
What should I do in case of an evacuation?
Never evacuate on your own initiative, only when the government recommends it. You can evacuate with your own vehicle, or in a vehicle that is made available for you.
Stay calm. Leave home if possible after you
- have switched off water, gas and electricity
- have locked the outside doors
- have only taken a minimum of personal items: identity papers, medicines for daily use and some food and drinks (bottles of water, cookies, ...), mobile phone & charger, baby or children’s items if needed
Hang a red cloth on the front door so that it is visible from the street, to make it clear to the emergency services that nobody is inside.
If your children are in school, then they’re in the safe hands of the teachers there. Unless otherwise indicated, the local authorities will ensure that the children are evacuated to a meeting place.
Leave the risk zone to a collection point that the government has indicated. Use the indicated travel routes and respect police force instructions.
When an evacuation is organized after a radioactive cloud has passed - and certainly when your car was parked outside:
- make sure that your clothes and skin don’t come into contact with the outside of your car (use a cloth to open the doors)
- keep the windows closed
- turn off the ventilation
- turn on the radio and TV
Evacuation remains an extreme measure. Sheltering is the first useful recommendation in case of a nuclear accident.
Evacuation won’t not take place at the moment when a radioactive cloud is passing, or when there’s not enough time to clear the area completely before the cloud passes. In that case, taking shelter is recommended. Afterwards, an evacuation can be organized if necessary.
Who is responsible for the evacuation of people who cannot move independently (people with reduced mobility, for example)?
The persons who cannot leave the risk zone on their own in the event of evacuation will be assisted by the emergency services.
In case of evacuation, whether all persons have actually left their home or residence to move to a safe place must always be verified.
Evacuation remains an extreme measure. Sheltering is the first useful recommendation in a nuclear accident.
In case of evacuation: do pets or livestock have to be left behind?
People are given priority over animals during an evacuation.
Nevertheless, it is possible - if feasible - to accept that owners take their pets with them when they are evacuated. Persons who use their own means of transport during the evacuation can, if they so wish and as far as possible, take their pets with them. Unfortunately for those who use public means of transport, pets are in principle excluded.
An evacuation of livestock can only be considered if the animals in the affected area cannot be adequately put in stables and if the evacuation area is sufficiently small. Evacuation is only applicable when there is sufficient time to carry out the evacuation without risk of contamination.
If, in the event of a nuclear accident, there is sufficient time (hours) left to take effective measures, why are people, instead of being sheltered, not immediately evacuated from the danger zone?
When there’s an evacuation prior to a radioactive release, it’s essential to know if there is sufficient time to complete the evacuation, in order to avoid people getting stuck in traffic jams when a radioactive cloud passes.
Evacuation of (a large part of) the population will only be considered in very extreme situations in the context of a nuclear accident. After all, it’s a very disruptive measure that requires a great deal of resources and people, and it takes a lot of time.
The first protection measure designated is sheltering. This measure is also the most efficient because it is quick and easy to implement.
How is radioactivity measured? How does the TELERAD network work? Can information be obtained about the measurement results on the internet?
Telerad consists of approximately 250 monitoring stations, monitoring radioactivity in the air and in the river waters. Monitoring stations are spread over the Belgian territory, with a higher density around the nuclear installations. When these monitoring stations notice something abnormal, they immediately send out an alarm to the experts of the FANC.
The measurement data can be consulted at http://telerad.fgov.be.
How dangerous is radioactivity? What risks do I run when exposed to radioactivity?
Radioactivity is actually a natural phenomenon. Every day your body receives a dose of radiation from the earth and the cosmos. That dose is so small that there is no danger to your health.
Exposure to an increased dose of radiation can lead to various conditions, including different types of cancer. That’s because radiation damages the cells of the body.
The main risks for the population in a nuclear accident are long-term risks (cancer and genetic abnormalities). The chance of complications (but not their severity) increases as a function of the radiation exposure dose.
With radioactive material is released in the air, water or soil, there is a possibility of contamination or radiation:
- In case of contamination, radioactive particles have fallen on your skin or clothing (external) or you have inhaled or swallowed them (internal).
- In case of irradiation, there’s no direct contact with radioactive particles, instead they irradiate your body from a distance. This can be compared to taking an X-ray, where you are exposed to a limited dose of radiation.
The best way to protect yourself against contamination or radiation is sheltering.
How can I spot a radioactive cloud? Can I smell or feel it?
You cannot see, smell, taste or feel radioactivity. You can only track or measure it with devices specifically designed for this purpose, such as the Telerad network.
Reading these devices and the interpretation of the collected data can only be performed by specialists.
If a high dose of radioactivity is detected in the air, the government will advise you to go inside or stay inside. Sheltering is the best protection against odourless, colourless, and tasteless radioactive substances.
Why is an information campaign on nuclear risks being organized? Is there an impending danger?
With the information campaign, we’d like to better inform the population about nuclear risk in Belgium and the proper response in an emergency situation. The reason for the campaign is the new nuclear emergency plan and the distribution of iodine tablets in the country. So, it’s not a question of an increased risk.
By organizing the information campaign, the Crisis Centre meets the European Directive stating that the Member States must ensure that the population that can be affected in the event of a radiological emergency receives the correct information about how they can protect themselves before, during and after a nuclear accident.
How can I know on how many kilometres I am from a nuclear site?
On this interactive map, you can check whether or not your municipality is located in a nuclear emergency planning zone.
We ask residents of a nuclear emergency planning zone
What are the health risks in case of a nuclear accident?
The risks involved in a nuclear accident are mainly long-term risks (e.g. increased risk of cancer).
What happens in case of a nuclear accident? How big is the chance that this could occur in Belgium?
All the nuclear installations in Belgium have extensive safety systems, comply with strict national and international regulations and are subject to rigorous controls. However, a nuclear accident can never be completely excluded.
The probability of a serious accident on a nuclear site is therefore small, but not completely non-existent.
If, despite all safety and security measures, something should go wrong in a nuclear installation, various procedures and emergency plans will be put into operation. These plans must ensure that the consequences of the incident remain limited.
Very exceptionally there may be radioactive material release in the air, in the water, or on the ground. Depending on the seriousness of the emergency situation, the government can then advise the population to take shelter, to take iodine tablets, or to evacuate. Always follow the official information.
I am older than 40. Do I have to keep iodine tablets at home?
It is true that the risk of thyroid disorders caused by radioactive iodine decreases with age. Conversely, the risk of complications from taking iodine tablets increases with age.
It is therefore recommended that persons older than 40 years get some information from their GP beforehand.
I still have iodine tablets at home. Do I have to get new ones?
If you store your iodine tablets in their original packaging, they will stay good for a long time. Just like table salt, the iodine of the tablets practically doesn’t deteriorate. The amount of the active substance is more than sufficient to achieve the desired effect for many years.
Only the production date is indicated on the packaging of the iodine tablets. These can be kept for at least 10 years.
So if you have tablets in the house with the date of manufacture Oct 2010 - June 2011 (lot numbers: 0L078A - 0L079A - 0L080A - 0L081A - 0L082A - 0L083A - 0L084A - 0L085A - 0L086A - 0L087A - 0L084A - 0L085A - 0L086A - 0L087A - 0L148A - 0L149A - 0L150A - 0L151A), these tablets are still effective.
The iodine tablets with production dates 2010 and 2011 have been tested for their efficacy by Sciensano for several years. In spring 2023, Sciensano did a thorough analysis of these tablets. These tests showed that the tablets still have a shelf life of at least 18 April 2024. The shelf life is retested every year.
However, as a precautionary measure to avoid a possible reduction in the tablets' effectiveness, we recommend getting a new box of iodine tablets from your pharmacy free of charge. The newer boxes available at pharmacies have a production date of 2017. You can simply leave the old box at your pharmacy. Don't hesitate to ask your pharmacist for advice.
Tip: keep the tablets in their original packaging and in a suitable place (room temperature and away from moisture and light), where you can quickly find them, for example in your medicine cabinet.
Do I have to pay the iodine tablets?
No, iodine tablets are free.
Who are the iodine tablets intended for?
It is important to protect yourself against radioactive iodine:
- If you live close to a nuclear installation.
Residents of municipalities in a zone of 20 kilometres around a nuclear installation (10 kilometres for the IRE Fleurus) should preferably have iodine tablets at home.
- If you are under 18 years of age.
The younger you are, the more vulnerable you are to the effects of radioactive iodine. Throughout Belgium, children and adolescents under 18, pregnant women and breastfeeding women are advised to pick up a box of iodine tablets.
From 40 on, taking stable iodine is not systematically recommended. Ask your doctor about the possible side effects of iodine.
Iodine tablets only offer protection against radioactive iodine, not against other radioactive substances. That is why it is very important that you quickly take shelter. So follow government recommendations. Even if you don’t have iodine tablets at home, you should stay indoors.
- If you live close to a nuclear installation.
How should iodine tablets be stored?
There’s no problem to keep as long as they are protected by their original blister packaging. This package offers protection against light and moisture.
Keep the tablets in a dry and dark place, as with other medicines. They must above all be protected from the heat. When stored at room temperature, the packaged tablets remain usable for at least 10 years.
However, when they are removed from their packaging, they quickly go bad. The package must not be opened, except immediately before use.
Can a community facility located outside an emergency planning zone receive iodine tablets?
Outside of a nuclear emergency planning zone, only community facilities with children under 18 will be provided with free and boxes of iodine tablets in advance.
There are stocks of iodine tablets throughout the country. If necessary, emergency services can distribute these stocks at the time of an accident to any endangered populations without iodine tablets.
How many boxes of iodine tablets should I provide as a community facility? Do I have to take into account the number of external visitors?
You have to take into account a global number of people who can be present in your community facility.
If your facility is located in one of the nuclear emergency planning zones (10 km around the IRE, 20 km around all other nuclear sites) or if there are children up to the age of 18 (for the whole Belgian territory), then you are entitled to free boxes of iodine tablets for all your staff and a reserve for potential external visitors. You have to make a reasonable but realistic estimate yourself of the number of visitors.
How long can iodine tablets be kept?
If you keep your iodine tablets in their original packaging, they will stay usable for a long time. Just like table salt, the iodine of the tablets practically doesn’t deteriorate. The amount of the active substance is more than sufficient to achieve the desired effect for many years.
Only the production date is indicated on the packaging of the iodine tablets. These can be kept for at least 10 years.
So if you already have tablets in the house with the date of manufacture Oct 2010 - June 2011 (lot numbers: 0L084A - 0L085A - 0L086A - 0L087A - 0L148A - 0L149A - 0L150A - 0L151A), you don’t need to get new tablets. You can keep them at least until the end of 2020.
To check whether iodine tablets can still be used, the Scientific Institute for Public Health (WIV) regularly carries out tests. The WIV guarantees the efficacy of the iodine tablets that the population has at home.
Some good advice: keep the tablets in their original packaging and in a suitable place (at room temperature and away from moisture and light), where you can quickly find them, for example in your medicine cabinet.
Which foreign nuclear power plants are located near our national borders?
- The Chooz nuclear power station (France) is located at a distance of less than 5 km from the territory of the Province of Namur.
- The Borssele nuclear power plant (Netherlands) is located at a distance of about 15 km from the territory of the province of East Flanders.
These power plants are also included in the nuclear emergency plan.
There are two more nuclear power plants in France which are a bit further from the Belgian border:
- The Gravelines nuclear power station (France) is located at a distance of about 30 km from the territory of the province of West Flanders.
- The Cattenom nuclear power station (France) is located at a distance of approximately 35 km from the territory of the province of Luxembourg.
Therefore, Belgium is outside their emergency planning zones.
Where are the nuclear installations in Belgium?
In Belgium there are two nuclear power plants:
- one in Doel (prov. East Flanders)
- and one in Tihange (prov. Liège).
In addition to the nuclear power stations, there are also a number of important nuclear installations in Belgium where in the event of an accident, government action may be necessary, namely:
- The Study Centre for Nuclear Energy in Mol (prov. Antwerp);
- Belgoprocess in Dessel (prov. Antwerp);
- The Institute for Radio Elements in Fleurus (prov. Hainaut).
Is there an emergency plan in Belgium for a nuclear or radiological accident or incident?
Yes, in case of a nuclear accident, the Crisis Centre of the Federal Government activates the National Nuclear and Radiological Emergency Plan.
This emergency plan guarantees the coordination of measures which must be taken to protect the population and the environment in the event of a radiological or nuclear incident or accident.
For a nuclear emergency, crisis management at national level is coordinated by the Crisis Centre, which is under the authority of the Minister of the Interior. The elaboration of the actions decided at the federal level and the operations of the intervention teams are then under the authority of the provincial governors in cooperation with the municipalities concerned.
The provinces and municipalities draw up a special emergency and intervention plan to supplement the national plan for the nuclear risks associated with the installations located on their territory or in their vicinity.
How are the authorities notified of a nuclear incident?
The operator of a nuclear installation is legally obliged to inform the government of any abnormal event that occurs in a nuclear installation.
Should the operator fail to notify the government in case of nuclear accident in which radioactive substances are released in the vicinity, the government would immediately be alerted to the accident via the Telerad network.
The Telerad network consists of 250 radioactivity monitoring stations spread all over the territory, which can detect any abnormal increase of certain radioactive substances in the area and automatically generate a warning.
In addition to the Telerad network, the radiological surveillance program regularly takes samples of water, air, soil, as well as plant and animal products across the Belgian territory and more specifically around nuclear sites. They then analyse these samples in a laboratory to verify that there are no abnormally high levels of radioactivity in our environment and our food.
Who gives recommendations to persons living in the Belgian-Dutch and French-Belgian border areas? How does international cooperation with neighbouring countries work?
The Belgian authorities are only authorized to act on Belgian territory. They may ask for help from the French and / or Dutch authorities.
The measures taken by the Belgian authorities apply to every person (Belgian citizen or not) who is in the zone concerned.
Bilateral agreements make the cooperation agreements official between the Belgian and French / Dutch authorities, both at the level of the municipalities, provinces, prefectures, and at national level.
What is an emergency planning zone?
An emergency planning zone is established for each nuclear site. Within this zone, the emergency services, the municipalities, the governors and the Crisis Centre provide additional efforts to protect the residents. For the sites in Doel, Tihange, Mol-Dessel, Borssele and Chooz, the zone is established at 20 kilometres around the nuclear installation. For Fleurus the zone is established at 10 kilometres around the facility.
Who determines the nuclear emergency planning zones?
The emergency planning zones (10 km around Fleurus and 20 km around other nuclear sites) were determined by experts in the nuclear and radiological emergency plan. They take into account national and international know-how.
The calculations were performed on the basis of a geographical information system.
Why can the range of an emergency planning zone vary for the different nuclear sites?
The range of the emergency planning zones was determined on the basis of an estimate of the risk of direct exposure of residents in the event of a nuclear or radiological accident. This estimate takes into account the probabilities and consequences of different types of accidents that can occur at our nuclear installations, taking into account their characteristics.
The risks of the activities of the Institute for Radio Elements in Fleurus (emergency planning zone of 10 km) are different from the activities of the Doel and Tihange nuclear power plants and of the nuclear sites in Mol-Dessel (20 km emergency planning zone).
Emergency planning zones have been set up so that the federal, provincial and local authorities in a particular zone can act quickly and take urgent measures (for example, a sheltering order, recommending iodine tablets or the evacuation the zone).
In an emergency situation, the evaluation of the situation will determine the intervention zone at the moment. It can differ from the emergency planning zone. An intervention zone is the zone in which the protective actions for the residents and the environment are in effect at that time.
If I eat contaminated foods, what are the risks for me?
If you eat contaminated foods, the body will absorb a more or less large part of the radioactivity from these foods and the radioactivity will accumulate in organs and tissues. Depending on where the radioactive substances accumulate, their nature, dietary habits and whether or not those contaminated foods continue to be eaten, those radioactive elements are gradually excreted from the organism.
In the body, the radioactive elements decay and thereby produce ionizing radiation that irradiates tissues and can damage cells. Poorly repaired cellular damage can eventually lead to cancer or to genetic abnormalities. The probability that you develop cancer or a genetic abnormality is proportional to the dose and thus to the concentration of the radioactive elements present in the body, multiplied by the duration of time that the radioactive elements effectively remain in the body.
It should be noted that the human body contains a natural dose of radioactivity.
How does the government protect the food chain?
Contamination of the food chain is mainly due to radioactivity deposited on the soil when a radioactive cloud passes over. This can lead to internal contamination among the population via food or drinking water.
To avoid this, the necessary measures will be taken to protect the food supply (drinking water, vegetables from the garden, agriculture and animal husbandry) for example:
- a restriction or ban on the use of fresh crops
- a ban on the use of drinking water or surface water. The use of rainwater for spraying crops is also not recommended.
- a ban on the use of milk from non-commercial circuits.
- grazing ban for livestock: (dairy) cattle containment to avoid contamination when consumed
I don’t have a telephone or cell phone. How can I receive information?
The municipalities involved, provinces and the Crisis Centre will use different channels, which complement each other:
- Cars with loudspeakers
- Media (TV and radio)
- Social media
That’s how you can also receive the necessary information without a telephone or mobile phone.
How can I be notified and informed in the event of a nuclear accident?
In the event of a nuclear emergency the government will quickly warn you and keep you informed about the correct measures to protect yourself. For this we’ll use different channels:
- Cars with loudspeakers
- Media (TV and radio)
- Social media
- An information number
Avoid calling (unless you are in a medical emergency for example). In this way, you’ll avoid overloading the telephone network and won’t interfere with emergency action coordination.
Why do pedestrians have to enter a building, while drivers have to move away from the nuclear installation? Does this mean that if I am on foot, I can also board my car and drive off?
When you are outside, enter the nearest building as quickly as possible and close windows and doors. The protection is greater than in a car.
If you are in your car, it can sometimes be difficult to reach a building, because you cannot find a place to park safely right away, or because there are few buildings accessible in the area at that moment.
If that’s the case, it is best to drive away from the nuclear installation. Don’t forget to switch off your car’s ventilation. Drive carefully, don’t speed, and strictly respect traffic regulations. Better to lose a few minutes than being stuck in a traffic jam caused by an accident.
What if I’m asked to take shelter and there is a situation where medical assistance is required (for example, a birth)?
If you are in a situation where medical assistance is necessary, call the emergency number 112, just like you’d do under normal circumstances.
If residents have to take shelter within a specific risk zone, the police will control access to this zone. Under certain conditions and with adequate protection measures, the emergency services can provide assistance in the zone.
Can I pick up my children at school or in the nursery in case of an nuclear accident?
No, we absolutely do not recommend moving to collect your children from school or from the daycare centre.
This can create additional traffic congestion and hinder the emergency services. On top of that, you would risk exposing yourself and your children to a possible radioactive cloud.
In an emergency, it’s better to leave your children at school under the supervision of the teachers.
Schools must draw up an internal emergency plan to prepare for these situations and are also asked to stock iodine tablets.
How long will I have to take shelter?
In principle, sheltering is limited to a maximum period of 24 hours.
Sheltering remains the best protection in the event of a nuclear accident. Over time, with long-term releases of radioactive substances, the concentration of radioactive substances within the home will become as significant as outside, even if windows and doors are kept closed. The radioactive dust particles can gradually penetrate the house through cracks and ventilation holes.
If the experts estimate at the time of the accident that sheltering should take longer or that the quantity of radioactive substances released is very high, a preventive evacuation of some affected areas may be appropriate.
In any case, follow the recommendations of the authorities, which will be communicated through the media and other channels.
What does 'sheltering' mean? What should I do?
Be sure to stay calm. If the government advises you to take shelter, go inside the nearest building (your house or another building) and stay inside.
- Close windows and doors to limit the inflow of contaminated outside air
- Also close other openings through which outside air can enter (broken windows, fireplaces, kitchen hood ...). Also turn off air conditioning or ventilation and make the bottom of doors draft-free with damp cloths
- Make sure that the air is refreshed to avoid malaise
- Go to a central room on the ground floor of the building. Move away from windows that offer less protection than a wall.
- Follow the official information channels of the government
If you take shelter after having been outside at the moment the radioactive cloud passed by, enter through an unused space. Remove your clothes, take a shower and put on other clothes before entering in physical contact with the other people who are hiding there.
Sheltering is a simple, quick and effective measure to protect yourself.