Residents who live near nuclear plants to receive potassium iodide pills

April 04, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

The federal government is about to provide 80,000 Marylanders who live near nuclear power plants with free doses of a common over-the-counter medicine that can protect people who survive high doses of radiation from developing thyroid cancer years later.

The potassium iodide pills are courtesy of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which in December offered to give any state that asked for them enough doses for everyone living within 10 miles of a nuclear plant. The offer, made weeks before the NRC warned nuclear plant operators of possible terrorist attacks, is meant as a supplement to evacuation plans.

But one local official said the drug giveaway could undermine evacuation efforts, by lulling people into the false belief that the pills can protect them from all radiation-caused illnesses in the event of a nuclear spill.

"This pill is not a cure-all," said Calvert County emergency management Director Donald F. Hall. "It only protects your thyroid and no other organ. ... Our major concern is that we don't want to become complacent with the pill, because in most cases it's not what people think it is."

Nine states have accepted the NRC's offer. In Maryland, the pills will be distributed to people living within 10 miles of Exelon Corp.'s Peach Bottom nuclear plant in York County, Pa., and the Calvert Cliffs nuclear reactor in Lusby, which provides power to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers.

Near the Pennsylvania line, the 10-mile zone includes the small communities of Cardiff and Whiteford in Harford County and Rock Springs in Cecil County. In Southern Maryland, the affected communities are Lusby and Solomons Island in Calvert County, adjacent areas in St. Mary's County, and Taylor Island in Dorchester County.

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