Households to be posted iodine tablets from today


Households across the State will from this morning begin receiving packs of iodine tablets, to be taken in the event of a nuclear emergency. The distribution of more than 2 million packs be completed by An Post within two weeks, according to the Department of Health and Children.

The first packs, six each of which tablets, were sent through the post yesterday as part of the Government's National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents, according to a Department spokesman. They are meant to provide protection against radioactive iodine, a gas sometimes released as a result of nuclear accidents.

Radioactive iodine released after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident has caused several thousand cases of thyroid cancer downwind of the reactor site. Children are particularly susceptible to this form of radiation-induced cancer.

The tablets "will come in a special envelope with a warning on the outside", the Department's spokesman said. Printed instructions will provide information about how to use the tablets. The Department has suggested that the sealed envelopes should not be opened other than in the event of a nuclear emergency.

The envelopes contain an orange box labelled "Potassium Iodate Tablets" and "For emergency use only in the event of a nuclear accident". Inside is a blister pack holding the tablets.

The six tablets were "sufficient to provide a single dose for each member of an average sized household", according to explanatory advertisements run in the media by the Department. Adults take two tablets, children one tablet and infants between a quarter and half a tablet, so each pack is only enough for two adults and two children.

"If households require additional supplies, arrangements are being made to meet the need through local health facilities," according to the ad. "You simply ask for them and get them from the health board," the spokesman added.

The ads said for "maximum benefit", the tablets should be taken before radioactive fallout arrived here. "Only a single dose is necessary when taken at the appropriate time," it said, and announcements about whether to take the tablets would come over the radio and television.

The Minister for Health and Children, Mr Martin, promised the tablets after a controversy last September involving his then Government colleague, Minister of State Mr Joe Jacob. Mr Jacob held responsibility for nuclear issues but failed to reassure the public while speaking on RTÉ that the Government had a workable response to a nuclear accident, including the availability of iodine tablets.