Going Shopping To Replace Potassium Iodide for Participating States

Patricia Milligan
Senior Level Advisor for Emergency Preparedness

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on behalf of the NRC, last month issued a procurement order for 14 million tablets of potassium iodide to replenish out-of-date supplies.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.

Nuclear Fuel Facilities Prepare For Emergencies, Too

Michael Norris
Operating Reactor Licensing Team Leader

Nuclear power plants need uranium-based fuel to run, and while the NRC doesn’t regulate mining of uranium ore, we do license and regulate the facilities that process uranium into reactor fuel.

While these fuel facilities don’t present the same concerns as a commercial power reactor, the NRC still requires them to plan for various types of events that might affect public health. All nuclear fuel facilities must fuelfacilitymapbe prepared for fires, natural events such as hurricanes, and emergencies involving other hazardous chemicals.

Facilities in the uranium conversion and enrichment process have to guard against a potential chemical hazard, not radioactive contamination. The uranium in these facilities is combined with fluorine, a very corrosive chemical. These plants’ emergency plans must be able to keep plant workers and the public safe if the uranium compound gets into the atmosphere.

Facilities that create the fuel pellets have to be concerned with unintentionally collecting too much enriched uranium in a small space and causing a small-scale nuclear reaction, called a criticality. These plants’ emergency plans must protect both plant staff and the public from the criticality’s radiation.

In their emergency plans, fuel facilities must address how they would respond to each of these potential accidents. They must describe the equipment that would be used, the responsibilities of various personnel, and how offsite response organizations would be notified in an emergency.

In addition, fuel facilities must also participate in exercises to practice their response to simulated emergencies and indicate how they will train their employees to respond to emergency situations. The NRC reviews and inspects each site’s emergency plan to make sure it meets federal requirements to adequately handle the types of emergencies that could happen at fuel facilities.