Why do people in Switzerland receive iodine tablets from the government?

Why do people in Switzerland receive iodine tablets from the government?

If you receive a mystery package out of the blue from the government and find a collection of iodine tablets, don’t panic! This is just one of the ways Switzerland prepares for nuclear accidents and is a precautionary measure. Here’s what expats need to know.

What are iodine tablets and what do they do?

Potassium iodide tablets, also known as iodine, are tablets quite similar to table salt. The tablets themselves, if taken at the right time and in the correct amount, are able to block the thyroid gland’s uptake of radioactive iodine, in the event of a nuclear incident.

The tablets can reduce the risk of thyroid cancer and other diseases if someone is exposed to radiation poisoning. However, you should not take these tablets unless advised to do so.

Who gets iodine tablets in Switzerland?

Iodine tablets are given to residents who live a maximum of 50 kilometres away from a Swiss nuclear plant. Currently, there are three nuclear plants in operation: Beznau and Leibstadt (Canton Aargau) and Gösgen (Canton Solothurn).

This means that those living in Zurich, Aarau, Basel, Zug, Lucerne, Winterthur, Schaffhausen as well as many other cities and cantons are required to receive iodine tablets from the cantonal authorities. The Swiss government has also ordered that every resident be given iodine tablets within 12 hours of declaring an emergency.

When are you supposed to use iodine tablets?

In the event of a nuclear accident or conflict, residents are advised to take the tablet once the threat has been confirmed, either by radio, television or through the Alertswiss app. Do not take the tablets before the threat is confirmed.

Along with the tablets, the government also advises those affected to remain indoors and hide in a cellar or shelter. 

While iodine tablets do offer protection from radioactive iodine - one of the byproducts of nuclear power - they do not protect against other radioactive material. Poisoning by Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 - two of the deadliest byproducts of a nuclear accident - is not prevented by iodine tablets.

How likely is a nuclear incident in Switzerland?

While this may seem quite doom and gloom, authorities made clear that the chances of a nuclear incident in Switzerland remain very low. Speaking to Swissinfo in 2019, the association of nuclear power station operators, swissnuclear, said, “Swiss nuclear power plants have been designed, built and regularly retrofitted in such a way that they can cope with severe accidents.”

Swiss nuclear plants are heavily regulated and monitored by the government to ensure an accident remains unlikely. According to swissnuclear, “Thanks to multiple and independent safety systems, it is extremely unlikely that a serious accident will occur.”

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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