In an unusual move, a German city is handing out iodine tablets to be used in a nuclear emergency without the justification of an actual disaster going on. The BBC reports Aachen is giving away free iodine tablets to the half a million people who live in the city and nearby areas over concern about an aging nuclear plant across the border in Belgium. Parts of the Tihange nuclear plant 43 miles from Aachen are more than 40 years old, Deutsche Welle reports. Reactors at the plant have been shut down repeatedly recently due to water leaks and micro-cracks. "For more than two years we've been worried about the reactor cracks getting bigger—the population has been very worried," a city spokesperson tells the BBC. Belgium's federal nuclear agency says international experts don't believe Tihange is in danger of leaking radiation.
Iodine can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer after the release of radiation. Tablets are usually stored in a central location and distributed in the case of an emergency. But Aachen officials argued the city is so close to Tihange there wouldn't be time to get iodine to everyone if a disaster occurred. An expert on reactor safety tells Deutsche Welle he believes the danger posed by Tihange is being blown out of proportion, but anyone concerned enough to get iodine tablets ahead of time should also stock up on water, food, vitamins, and material to seal doors and windows. Residents under 46 years old have until Nov. 15 to apply online for free iodine tablets, which they can pick up at area pharmacies, the AP reports. Belgium plans to start shutting down the Tihange nuclear plant in 2023, but German officials want that timeline moved up. (Read more iodine stories.)