U.S. scraps plan for anti-radiation pills

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY, January 28, 2008

WASHINGTON _ The federal government will not give anti-radiation pills to millions of people who live 10 to 20 miles from a nuclear plant because there are more effective ways to protect people in case of an accident or terrorist attack, the White House said Monday.

The pills "offer negligible additional protection" against radiation exposure for those who live outside a 10-mile radius of a reactor, said John Marburger, President Bush's top science adviser.

Some members of Congress and thyroid cancer activists expressed outrage. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called it "reckless endangerment of the American people."

The government already stockpiles the pills, which protect against thyroid cancer after radiation exposure, for the 4.7 million people who live within 10 miles of a plant.

More than five years ago, Congress ordered wider distribution of the pills, to cover 21.9 million people in 33 states, amid concerns that terrorists could attack a nuclear plant.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has long opposed wider distribution of potassium iodide pills, arguing that evacuation and protection from contaminated food are more effective ways to prevent cancer. The NRC also has expressed concern that pill distribution could undermine public confidence in the safety of the nation's nuclear plants.

In 2002, Congress ordered the Bush administration to stockpile the over-the-counter pills, but it left a legal loophole allowing the White House to scrap the distribution requirement if officials determined there was a better way to prevent cancer.

After a six-month study, Marburger invoked that loophole Monday. He said evacuation and distribution of uncontaminated food would be more effective and warned that pill distribution could distract people during a crisis.

Markey, author of the 2002 legislation, called it "inexcusable that the White House would decide to leave children and their families totally unprotected from a potential meltdown or terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant," Markey said, "especially when the cost of protecting these Americans is mere pennies per pill."

The once-a-day pills protect the thyroid against inhaled or ingested radioactive iodine by saturating it with harmless potassium iodide. Scientists recommend the pills particularly for children because they are more susceptible to fallout.

Marburger, however, said it's not necessary to stock pills for people outside the 10-mile radius because there are very few scenarios under which radiation could spread that far and people could be evacuated in time to avoid exposure.

"The focus on evacuation should not be diverted or confused by attempts to distribute (the pills)," Marburger wrote in his decision.

Peter Crane, a former NRC lawyer and thyroid cancer survivor, criticized the decision and accused Marburger of "putting American children at greater risk of terrorism-caused thyroid cancer."

In Ontario, the schools near the nuclear reactors provide potassium iodide pills in case of a nuclear accident which parents must sign permission to use each year at the beginning of the school year. Nothing, however is available to deal with the routine emissions of tritium and other radio-nuclides which are carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens into the air water and land.

<< Back to Previous Page