| Article published January 13, 2002|
mulls radiation protection
By TOM HENRY
OAK HARBOR -- Some extra peace of mind could be
in store for 16,500 people who live near FirstEnergy Corp.’s
Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County.
After years of
review, Ohio now appears ready to commit itself to an agreement to
make free potassium iodide pills available to residents who live
within the immediate 10-mile evacuation zone of the plant, as well
as the utility’s Perry nuclear plant east of Cleveland and its
Beaver Valley nuclear plant in western Pennsylvania.
pills can save lives in the event of a nuclear disaster, by keeping
cancer-causing radiation from being absorbed by the thyroid gland.
They would have to be taken within six hours of exposure and are not
a sure-fire antidote for all types of radiation. But medical experts
have said they would no doubt boost the odds of surviving a
The state health department will
soon announce dates for at least one public meeting near each of the
Barring major opposition, a formal request to have
Ohio participate likely will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission in April by either the health department or a state panel
called the Utility Radiological Safety Board, said Jay Carey, Ohio
Department of Health spokesman.
"We’re working in that
direction of participating, but there are some logistical issues
that have to be worked out," he said.
At last week’s
quarterly meeting, the six-member radiological board authorized the
public meetings, but did not schedule dates. It has its next
quarterly meeting in April. The board is represented by the Ohio
departments of agriculture, health, and commerce, the state
Emergency Management Agency, the Ohio Environmental Protection
Agency, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
still need to be worked out how the pills would be distributed, Mr.
The NRC has wavered on the potassium iodide issue
for years, first encouraging states to stockpile pills for the
general public, then retreating because of budget concerns before
coming full circle and offering to pick up the initial tab for all
states willing to make the pills available.
The pills have a
shelf life of five to seven years, which means states could end up
buying more after the initial distribution.
The issue was
jump-started by the events of Sept. 11 and the Food and Drug
Administration’s recently issued guidance for the pills.
long-awaited treatment guidelines released Dec. 10, the FDA lowered
the recommended dosage for children.
It also said there is
little chance of experiencing dangerous side effects from potassium
Ten days later, on Dec. 20, the NRC stepped up its
offer by announcing it will soon make the pills available to
whatever states request them. It set aside $800,000 to fund initial
stockpiles, and said it was in the process of negotiating deals with
drug manufacturers. The pills cost about a dime
Massachusetts became the latest participant, notifying
the NRC of its decision Thursday. Alabama, Arizona, and Tennessee
became participants in years past.
Michigan has four nuclear
plants, including Detroit Edison Co.’s Fermi II nuclear plant in
northern Monroe County.
To date, it has shown little interest
in potassium iodide. Officials there have the same anxiety that has
been expressed elsewhere - that the pills could give a false sense
of security and impede evacuations.
On Friday, a Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality administrator who oversees the
issue said his state hasn’t ruled out participating.
said it hasn’t budged from its previously stated position
"We’re still assessing information that’s been made
available," Dave Minnaar, chief of the Michigan DEQ’s radiological
protection section, said.
Ohio’s interest in the Beaver
Valley site stems from the fact that the 10-mile evacuation zone
extends across the Pennsylvania state line.
That has created
a scenario in which eastern Ohio residents who live within 10 miles
of the Beaver Valley complex could be provided potassium iodide
pills during an emergency, but not western Pennsylvania residents
who live that close.
David Allard, radiation bureau chief of
the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said the
Keystone state hasn’t ruled out participating - but remains wary
about sending out the wrong signals during an
"Having lived through Three Mile Island, we take
a very conservative approach to emergency response," Mr. Allard
said. "The best way to protect the public is to have them
The issue of stockpiling the pills is not as clear
cut as it sounds, he said.
Pennsylvania officials are
concerned that the FDA’s decision to recommend lower dosages for
children could result in unnecessary confusion and delay as people
scramble to leave their homes, Mr. Allard said.
He said he
believes the NRC is willing to make the pills available only in
adult dosages of 130 milligrams, twice the recommended dosage for
youths ages 3 to 18, four times the recommended dosages for children
1 month to 3 years of age, and eight times the recommended dosage
"Are people really supposed to dice these pills
in halves, quarters, and eighths as they’re trying to grab diapers
and get out the door?" Mr. Allard asked. "For everyone to jump in
and say ‘Give us 130 mg tablets,’ I’m not sure if that’s
The pills have been stockpiled for years for
emergency workers, health-care providers, and others, from hospital
patients to prisoners, who could not be evacuated