(AP) DIMONA, Israel – Israeli soldiers began distributing radiation sickness pills Sunday in towns near one of Israel’s two nuclear reactors, as a precautionary measure in case of radioactive leaks. Security officials said the tablets have long been held in storage for distribution in case of emergency, but after two years of talks with Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, the Cabinet recently decided that those in risk areas should have the pills at home, to cut down on reaction time in the event of an accident.
Distribution began Sunday in Dimona, where one reactor is located, and in other nearby towns and villages in southern Israel’s Negev desert, a military statement said. Security officials said a further round was planned at a later date for the area near the Nahal Sorek plant, southwest of Jerusalem.
Dimona resident Tali Peretz told Israel Army Radio the distribution should have been ordered years ago.
“It shouldn’t take a committee two years to reach the very simple conclusion that it is not possible at a moment of crisis distribute the tablets to almost 200,000 residents,” she said.
The pills are an iodine compound that blocks absorption of radioactive material by shutting down the thyroid gland.
The army statement made a point of stressing the safeguards surrounding Israeli nuclear facilities.
“Reactors in Israel are operated and maintained in accordance with the highest safety standard and are continuously supervised by professionals,” it said.
Israel has had nuclear technology for decades but refuses to comment on reports it has nuclear bombs, saying only that it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.
In 1986, former Dimona technician Mordechai Vanunu provided photographs and descriptions of the reactor to The Sunday Times of London. Based on Vanunu’s material, experts said at the time that Israel has the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Vanunu was released in April after serving 18 years in an Israeli prison for treason. He remains subject to restrictions, including a ban on meeting foreigners and leaving the country.