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Medication available soon to residents near nuclear reactors

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 9:58 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — CLINTON — The Illinois Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday it will again issue radiation medication to residents within 10 miles of a nuclear reactor, including the facility in Clinton, though a spokeswoman stressed no accidents or other problems are anticipated.

IEMA Director Jonathon Monken said participating Walgreen’s stores in communities with nuclear reactors will make available potassium iodide, or KI, pills next month. KI doses protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine that may be released during a reactor breakdown, by preventing it from entering the thyroid.

The state last issued pills in 2002.

“Many people have moved into the Emergency Planning Zones around the nuclear plants since we last provided KI to the residents,” Monken said. “Others may have added family members or lost their pills. That’s why we felt it was time to make the pills available once again.”

The Clinton Power Station operated by Exelon has been online since 1987. Like other nuclear reactors in Illinois, which provide nearly half of the state’s residential electricity, it hasn’t had a reactor breakdown. Spokesman Bill Harris said Exelon supports any efforts the government makes toward preventative efforts.

IEMA spokeswoman Patti Thompson said the 215,000 pills are coming from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission at no cost to the state. Residents will receive waivers in the mail, redeemable at participating Walgreen’s locations, for a supply of pills for each member of the household. Thompson said more than 60,000 households will receive the waivers that should start arriving by mid-December.

“Last time we used a different distribution method,” Thompson said. “We took staff out to the area and spent a weekend where people could come by to pick them up if they wanted one. This will make it easier for people who are out of town and work on the weekends to get them at their convenience.”

Alarmed people snatched up non-prescription KI pills from shelves in some parts of the country after the Fukushima Reactor meltdown last year in Japan, even though the disaster posed no threat outside of Japan. Thompson stressed the drug protects only one part of the body.

“This is not some type of magic radiation pill,” Thompson said. “It does only protect the thyroid gland and there are radioactive materials that could be released during an accident at one of the plants that are not radioactive iodine that affect other parts of your body, and the KI would not protect you against that. We want to make it very clear to people that we’ll make these available to people, but our main focus will always be on protecting the whole body, and the best methods to do that are to evacuate or seek shelter.”

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