RIVM logo, National Institute for Public Healthe and the Enviroment. Minsty of Health, Welfare and Sport

Risk communication about radiation accidents and the distribution of iodine tablets

Risicocommunicatie over stralingsongevallen en de verspreiding van jodiumtabletten


A serious accident with a nuclear reactor can lead to the release of radioactive iodine. If this is inhaled, children in particular have a greater risk of developing thyroid cancer. However, the timely intake of an iodine tablet will prevent the body absorbing radioactive iodine. In order to be prepared for such an accident, iodine tablets have been distributed to people up to 40 years old who live close to a nuclear power plant. In July 2014, the Netherlands decided iodine tablets should also be available for persons under 18 years old and pregnant women who live up to 100 kilometers from a nuclear power plant. This report discusses how communication about radiation accidents, radiation incidents, and the distribution of iodine tablets can be better attuned to the information needs of the public and to their perceptions. People have a need for clear information about who should take the tablets, why this is necessary and when they should take them. It also appears that most people in the Netherlands are unclear about the health effects of a nuclear accident and about which measures can protect them from these effects. Unlike experts, most people expect many deaths and deformities in the case of a nuclear accident, even at a considerable distance from the accident. Therefore, it is important to discuss the effects that people are concerned about. Furthermore, people know little about protective measures. For example, many people think that the best measure is immediate evacuation to a safe area. However, taking shelter may also suffice, depending on the levels of radiation. To ensure that iodine tablets are administered correctly, it is recommended that they are distributed to the target group with a covering letter specifying the name of the recipient and indicating that further instructions should be awaited.

Home / Documents and publications / Risk communication about radiation accidents and the distribution of iodine tablets

RIVM Committed to health and sustainability