Iodine tablets

Iodines tablets
Iodines tablets
Frequently asked questions about iodine tablets used in the event of a nuclear accident. This FAQ is regularly updated.

What are iodine tablets used for?

These tablets are made up of potassium iodide which, when absorbed, saturates the thyroid gland with stable iodine, thereby preventing radioactive iodine from fixing itself to the thyroid gland and subsequently causing thyroid problems (cancer).

When should I take an iodine tablet?

Only on the instruction of the Federal Office for Civilian Protection - Article 8 of the ordinance on the distribution of iodine tablets to the population (in French : ordonnance sur la distribution de comprimés d’iode à la population). The Swiss National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) is permanently analysing the radiological situation throughout Switzerland.

Who distributes these tablets?

In Geneva, distribution of iodine tablets is organised under the leadership of the civilian protection service. This distribution is carried out only on the orders of the Federal Office for Civilian Protection, relayed by the cantonal authorities. 

Map of distribution points (schools)

Who gives the order to take the tablet?

The Federal Office orders the use of the tablets depending on the development of the radiological situation. 

May I ask a pharmacist to sell me a tablet?

Iodine tablets are not sold separately, but only in boxes of 12 tablets. 

How many iodine tablets does the canton of Geneva have? Are we sure that everyone would receive a tablet?

The canton has enough tablets to distribute to all residents, visiting delegates, tourists and cross-border commuters working in the canton of Geneva.


Why haven't I received any iodine tablets yet?

The organisation of the distribution of potassium iodide tablets in Switzerland is based on a federal ordinance (Ordinance on Iodine Tablets (in French : Ordonnance sur les comprimés d’iode - 814.52).  This ordinance stipulates that only the population within a 50-kilometre radius of a Swiss nuclear power plant should receive the tablets at home so that they may take them in a timely manner if the order is given. In these municipalities, iodine tablets are also available in pharmacies and drugstores, where they may be purchased for CHF 5.- in the event of loss.

Beyond 50 km, iodine tablets are distributed after an incident by the canton or commune. At present, people living in these zones of more than 50 km are not required to store iodine tablets. 

In case of a nuclear bomb/explosion, do I need to take an iodine tablet?

In the current situation, there is no scenario in which iodine tablets need to be distributed or taken. At present, the federal government does not intend to order any protective measures in the event of a nuclear attack.

What are the side effects of taking an iodine tablet?

Side effects are rare and usually mild. 

What is the dosage?

Dosage and duration of intake depend on the instructions given. 

What happens if I take the iodine tablet too early or too late?

Taking these tablets too early or too late may have a detrimental effect. The protective effect on the thyroid gland may be useless or even counterproductive. There is therefore no need to consult a doctor unless you have thyroid disease such as goiter or hyperthyroidism, or if you notice any side effects. 


I didn't take the iodine tablet because I didn't hear the information and I didn't receive the iodine tablet in time, what do I risk?

In the event of a serious incident in a nuclear power plant, radioactive iodine may be released which, when ingested or inhaled, leads to a significant increase in the risk of developing cancer of the thyroid gland. This gland uses iodine to metabolise  hormones that are necessary for the development and functioning of the human body. Saturating the thyroid gland with stable (non-radioactive) iodine by ingesting it in the form of a tablet containing potassium iodide prevents radioactive iodine from attaching itself to the thyroid gland.

Not taking the iodine tablet increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer.


Could I also take iodine tablets as a preventive measure without a nuclear accident?

Potassium iodide tablets are only suitable for use in the event of increased radioactive iodine concentrations, such as may occur during a major nuclear accident. We strongly advise against taking these tablets without being asked to do so by the authorities, as long-term prophylactic use can influence thyroid function.

Why doesn't the canton of Geneva distribute iodine tablets beforehand as other cantons do?

Federal regulations do not provide for the distribution of iodine tablets in advance for municipalities located more than 50 km away from a Swiss nuclear facility. As mentioned in the ordinance on the distribution of iodine tablets to the population (in French: ordonnance sur la distribution de comprimés d’iode à la population), no commune in Geneva is located within 50 km of a Swiss nuclear facility. This is why there is no distribution of iodine tablets beforehand in our canton.

How will I be informed that I need to take an iodine tablet?

The authorities will inform the population via the media. 

Can I refuse to take an iodine tablet?

It is up to each individual to decide whether or not to comply with the authorities' instructions.

In terms of taking an iodine tablet, why is there a difference between a nuclear power plant accident and nuclear bomb?

The potential effects of an accident in a nuclear power plant are different from those caused by the explosion of an atomic bomb. The nature of the impact and the time frame are different. The destructive effects of an atomic bomb are mainly due to the blast, as in the case of conventional explosives, but also to burns and fires caused by its high temperature, and to the radiation effect. In order to protect themselves as best as possible, the population will have to follow the behavioural instructions that will be decided in accordance with the events.

What is the difference between an atomic bomb and a radiation bomb?

Atomic bomb (nuclear bomb, thermonuclear bomb, A-bomb, H-bomb)

There are various subtypes: Fission bombs (A-bomb) or fusion bombs (H-bomb, thermonuclear). Uranium and/or plutonium are the key elements of this type of bombs.

One of the fission products of uranium U-235 or plutonium Pu-239 is radioactive iodine. For more details, see: Handbook of nuclear data for safeguards: database extensions, August 2008 in annex; page 105 for U-235 and page 109 for Pu-239. 

The measurement plan is described in the Ordinance on Civilian Protection, Art. 7, para. 2 and Annex 2 (in French: ordonnance sur la protection de la population Art. 7, al. 2 et annexe 2).

Radiological bomb (dirty bomb)

A radiological bomb is an artifact that combines a conventional explosive with radioactive substances. The conventional explosive is used to disperse the radioactive substances in the environment and contaminate it. Example: theft of a source of caesium C-137 from a hospital to make a dirty bomb; C-137 has a half-life of 30 years and decays into barium Ba-137. In this case, there is no radioactive iodine. 

Can I protect my pet by giving it iodine tablets?

Pets such as dogs, cats and cows are mammals. As such, their thyroid function is similar to that of the human thyroid. However, as the appropriate dosage for animals is much lower (10 to 1000 times lower than for humans, depending on the species), it is strongly recommended that potassium iodide tablets are not given to animals. Only cows could tolerate them. For other animals, these tablets would represent a massive overdose. If you want to know more, ask your veterinarian at your next consultation.