Demand on the rise How the distribution of iodine tablets is regulated in the Ahr Valley

Ahrweiler district · Because Russia's President Vladimir Putin threatens to use nuclear weapons, the demand for iodine tablets is also increasing in the Ahrweiler district. The Supervisory and Service Directorate (ADD) of Trier had already asked the district in 2017 to distribute iodine tablets in case of a disaster because of the nearby nuclear power plants.

 The demand for iodine tablets is also increasing in the Ahr valley. Photo: Martin Gausmann

The demand for iodine tablets is also increasing in the Ahr valley. Photo: Martin Gausmann

Foto: Martin Gausmann

Iodine tablets are always in demand when a nuclear threat situation arises - as is currently the case again due to the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat to use nuclear weapons. Those who take the high-dose preparations hope that the thyroid gland will not be affected by radioactive and thus carcinogenic iodine.

Andreas Windscheif from the Hirsch pharmacy in Bad Breisig, for example, has noticed that fear is currently driving people to pharmacies in the region as well. "Only today, a customer asked for 65 milligrams of dosed potassium iodide, the medicine for use in radiation accidents. Pharmacies are not responsible for distributing it as a precaution against a nuclear accident." It is not available, he said. "Even if it was, I don't sell it because the state distributes it for free if needed," Windscheif says. "We sell potassium iodide tablets with 100 or 200 micrograms of active ingredient. It can compensate for an insufficient iodine supply. But it would be pointless to try to prevent radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland with this much lower dosage."

72,000 iodine tablets for the Ahrweiler district

The Supervisory and Service Directorate (ADD) of Trier had already requested the district of Ahrweiler in 2017 to distribute 72,000 iodine tablets in the event of a disaster due to the nearest nuclear power plants (NPPs). The district sent the tablets to the cities of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Sinzig, Remagen, the municipalities of Adenau, Altenahr, Bad Breisig, Brohltal and the municipality of Grafschaft. The distribution campaign was completed at the beginning of September 2017.

 In the event of an incident, the iodine tablets are to be distributed from the town halls to designated distribution points, such as fire stations or polling stations in the villages, districts and towns. In Sinzig, for example, where the tablets are stored "dry and protected from light" in the town hall as specified, "the distribution would take place in the town's fire stations", informs Christian Weidenbach, head of the organisation department.

 Replenishment was necessary after the flood of 2021

The district town is less specific: "The tablets are stored securely in the Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler town area. Access is guaranteed at all times around the clock." The latter did not apply to the district town as well as to the VG Altenahr shortly after the flood in July 2021. Both town halls were affected by the flood and needed supplies. After the catastrophe, according to district press officer Caroline Wicher, "the district administration of Ahrweiler asked the municipalities about the stock of iodine tablets - as a result, some iodine tablets were reordered by the district from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate and delivered to the affected municipalities“.

 Regarding the timing, Karl Walkenbach, press spokesman of the district town, refers to the communication of the district from 2017: "The distribution of iodine tablets to the population in case of an emergency will only take place after instruction by the disaster control management of the ADD. According to the nationwide framework recommendations for disaster control in the vicinity of nuclear facilities, the iodine distribution points must be ready for distribution within twelve hours.“

 The Tihange nuclear power plant in Belgium is further than 100 kilometres away

The nearest nuclear power plant, Tihange in Belgium, is further than 100 kilometres away from the villages in the Ahrweiler district - actually between about 120 and 145 kilometres as the crow flies. Special measures apply in Rhineland-Palatinate for the central zone (up to five kilometres), the middle zone (up to 20 kilometres) and the outer zone (up to 100 kilometres) around a nuclear power plant. In these zones, tablets are available for all inhabitants up to 45 years of age. "In addition, for the remaining areas outside these zones - this includes the district of Ahrweiler to implement  the measurement programmes to determine the radiological situation and the supply of children and adolescents under 18 years of age as well as pregnant women with iodine tablets to produce an iodine blockade." This is explained on request by the ADD, which is in charge of operations in case of incidents at nuclear facilities.

 Iodine blockade means that the high-dose tablets, taken in time, saturate the thyroid gland so that it does not absorb radioactive iodine. They are intended to protect the population from damage to the thyroid gland in the event of an accident at the nuclear power plants. However, ADD press officer Eveline Dziendziol stresses: "In particular, taking iodine tablets only protects against the absorption of radioactive iodine into the thyroid gland, not against the effects of other radioactive substances."

Original text: Hildegard Ginzler

Translation: Mareike Graepel

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