According to EU officials, Brussels has accelerated plans to improve the EU’s health response in the event of a nuclear incident following the invasion of Ukraine by Moscow.

The European Commission wants to encourage EU members to put on iodine pills, protective suits and other medicines. It is also working on ways to counter potential chemical and biological attacks after the US warned that Russia could use such weapons in Ukraine.

A spokesperson for the commission said: “The commission is working to improve preparedness for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CRBN) threats in general, and this predates the war in Ukraine.”

The move comes as Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is putting his nuclear weapons forces on edge.

Earlier this month, pharmacies in countries including Belgium, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic ran out of iodine pills after Russian troops attacked and damaged a Ukrainian nuclear power plant. The attack sparked warnings about the risks of a radioactive leak spreading across the continent.

Such leaks release radioactive iodine which, when inhaled, concentrates in the thyroid gland and can lead to cancer. Potassium iodine tablets saturate the gland with iodine, preventing the absorption of the radioactive material.

Brussels is applying the lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, which gripped Europe without adequate supplies of personal protective equipment or a vaccine.

Last September, it established the European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) to identify and prepare for potential future health emergencies.

MEPs say HERA needs to act faster to keep pace with developments in Ukraine.

Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, MEP for French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party, said: “We need to draw strong lessons from Covid. We need specific measures for nuclear sites. We’re not ready. We don’t have the supplies.”

“We have a nuclear threat from a mad man in the Kremlin,” she said. “We need a European stock and an alarm and monitoring system. We have to do simulations to be ready.”

National governments decide on most health issues in the EU, but the Covid crisis led to more concerted action in Brussels, such as the procurement of vaccines.

In an emergency, HERA will be responsible for the response. It will activate funding and launch mechanisms for monitoring, targeted development, procurement and procurement of medical countermeasures and raw materials. It also has production facilities ready to meet the demand for drugs.

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