Faced with an increasingly “unpredictable” world and worries about the war in Ukraine, Denmark has decided to stock up on iodine tablets in the event of a nuclear incident.
The Danish Health and Medicines Authority has recommended that the country increases its current stock of iodine tablets to 2 million. This number of pills is enough to cover at-risk groups including children, frontline healthcare workers, emergency personnel, and people who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.
Iodine, which comes in the form of the salt potassium iodide, can be a useful tool in the event of a nuclear incident – but it’s by no means a cure-all against radiation. In the immediate aftermath of a nuclear attack or accident, radioactive iodine can be released into the air, where it enters the body of anyone within the fallout zone.
Taking iodine just before or just after a nuclear incident involving radioactive iodine will effectively fill the thyroid up with so much iodine it can not absorb any more, whether it’s radioactive or not. This blocks radioactive iodine from entering the gland and can help protect the body against conditions such as thyroid cancer. However, it should only be taken in the event of a nuclear incident, not as a long-term preemptive measure, and shouldn’t be used if the nuclear material does not contain iodine.
Denmark’s health agency said they made the call to up their iodine stockpiles based on "forecasts and impact calculations for the risk of a nuclear incident in Denmark's immediate area" – and it’s clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was on their minds.
“The course of COVID-19 in the last two years has shown us that it is important to be prepared. The war in Ukraine has shown us that the world is unpredictable. Therefore, the National Board of Health has reassessed the framework for Denmark's iodine preparedness, which must be able to be used in the event of a nuclear accident in our immediate area,” the Danish health agency said in a statement.
Meanwhile, there have been media reports of people living in many former Eastern Bloc states – including Poland, Bulgaria, and Czechia – flocking to pharmacists to stock their cupboards with iodine tablets
In late March, inside sources told Reuters that the European Commission has started a stockpiling operation to boost its defenses against chemical, nuclear, and biological incidents due to mounting concerns over the conflict in Ukraine. The European Commission didn’t comment on the issue, but the sources claim 20 states in the European Union already have stockpiles of iodine pills, and France had reportedly called to start a bloc-wide plan to distribute the tablets.