The Department of Health and Human Services, acting on behalf of the NRC, last month issued a procurement order for 14 million tablets of potassium iodide to replenish out-of-date supplies. This drug, also known by its chemical symbol KI, is used to protect the thyroid against radioactive iodine should a nuclear power plant accident occur, and is part of NRC’s program to help states and localities with their emergency response plans.
The NRC first offered KI tablets to states with residents living within the 10-mile emergency protection zone of a nuclear power plant in 2001. The agency recommends that states consider including KI in their emergency preparedness plans and provides it to those states that ask for it. Currently, 25 states have requested and received the pills.
The NRC’s policy is to offer KI to states once every six years to replace pills that may have passed their shelf life. The recent order is the third wave of replenishing KI. While this matter has been subject of some social media attention as perhaps indicative of some imminent threat, supplying KI is nothing new. Including KI in emergency plans is a decades old precaution. However, this is the first time the NRC has used the HHS medical procurement service to order KI. The NRC decided to go through HHS this time in order to leverage federal buying power and reduce costs.
Here are some other facts about KI:
• KI protects the thyroid from iodine-131, a radioisotope that would likely be released into the air during a nuclear power plant accident. It does not protect against all forms of radiation and is to be taken in addition to other protective measures, such as sheltering.
• Residents living near nuclear plants should take KI only when directed by local authorities during an incident – it is not a daily supplement to build up immunity, as some have advertised on the Internet. In fact, daily use can be harmful.
If you live within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant and want to inquire about obtaining KI and/or disposing of expired KI, contact your state health authorities.