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Illinois' Nuclear Power Watchdog for 25 Years
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at a Press Conference sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky
10:30 a.m., State of Illinois Building, Chicago, IL
David A. Kraft, Director
February 4, 2002
For nearly 20 years — almost the entire length of our existence as a nuclear power watchdog organization — NEIS has supported and advocated the distribution of potassium iodide (KI) around nuclear reactor sites. We believe that the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety is wrong for not supporting such distribution in communities around Illinois reactors within the 10-mile emergency planning zone (EPZ), and urge them to reverse their decision.
The stated positions of IDNS against KI distribution — as far as they can be found and reviewed in any detail — do not hold up under close scrutiny, and are not supported by historic evidence involving real nuclear accidents, particularly those at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
NEIS called IDNS to request a copy of their position paper and detailed rationale for not wanting to distribute KI to Illinois communities. Our call has gone unanswered. The IDNS website was inaccessible for a time, and when finally accessible, we found little solid detailed information and evidence justifying why IDNS holds the position to place the public in needless jeopardy by denying pre-accident access to KI via distribution.
Historic Record Justifies its Distribution:
When one examines research done on the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear plant accidents, one finds ample evidence calling for pre-accident distribution and immediate availability.
While IDNS is correct instating that KI is effective for only one type of isotopic exposure — that coming from radioiodine — they fail to tell the public that radioiodine isotopes are expected to be an enormous part of the radioactive inventory released in the early stages of the accident, and that the radioiodines are also among the most bio-active of the isotopes expected to be released. So, while prophylactic use of KI only deals with one exposure pathway, it is one of the most significant pathways expected in the early phases of a severe accident when the greatest number of people are likely to be under risk of exposure. This justifies its use and its effectiveness.
KI is most effective if taken between 2-6 hours before exposure to radioactive iodine. Effectiveness drops off dramatically taken after exposure. Since IDNS prime emphasis is on evacuation during radiologic incidents, it is not implausible that people can be exposed while in the process of evacuating to areas where KI is stockpiled for distribution. Such needless exposure is likely to be the result of 1.) traffic jams, and 2.) unpredictable weather changes, especially precipitation. This hazard can be eliminated if evacuees have access to at least an initial dose before heading out into potential exposure.
At Three Mile Island (TMI) subsequent research revealed that nearly 10 times the number of people spontaneously evacuated without orders from officials than was either expected or planned for. This phenomenon is called the "evacuation shadow phenomenon." It suggests the level of unpredictability of evacuees, their routes of evacuation, and potential to take the wrong actions at the wrong times, in spite of government plans and orders. It also suggests the possibility for horrendous traffic tie ups, especially in adverse weather, in future accidents. These people need to be protected if caught outdoors during an evacuation.
At Chernobyl, experts from many of the affected nations — especially Poland and Russia — point to KI as the single most effective intervention they made during the accident to reduce effects from radioiodine exposure. Further, many attributes of the Soviet emergency response capability — e.g., centralized planning and mobilization of evacuation, evacuee response to authority — are not likely to be present at U.S. accidents. It is also important to realize that the relatively small exposure of close-in populations was a result of the intense fire at Chernobyl, which distributed the lion's share of radionuclides far away to other countries like Belarus. This factor is certain to be absent in potential U.S. accidents, meaning, the close in populations -- those within the EPZ -- bear the potential for serious exposure. They deserve to be protected. Current IDNS policy denies people this protection.
Disputing IDNS Present-day Concerns:
IDNS lists a number concerns as its rationale for not wanting to distribute KI. Each of these suffers from logical inconsistency or abdication of regulatory responsibility, and is contestable:
1.) KI only treats one form of radioactive exposure; other isotopes exist for which KI doesn't work. This would give people a false sense of security to risk exposure: Fire extinguishers only deal with one kind of hazard at fires. Should they be recalled from public distribution because they don't treat the other hazards, or because they give the public a false sense of security? Of course not! People need adequate training to use KI and understand its limits, just the way they are trained to use fire extinguishers and seat belts. It's better to have these devices and never use them, then to need them and not have them available.
It must be IDNS which provides this training to the public. They are failing in their stated mission and their regulatory responsibility if they fail to provide such necessary public education.
2.) People will mis-use it, or overdose from it: Once again, training and education is the key. Even during the Chernobyl accident, few reports of overdose or adverse effects were observed. However, it is possible that thousands, maybe tens of thousands of adverse thyroid conditions were prevented from this action, well worth the risk. Toxic reactions result only from extended, long-term use of KI. Adverse effects usually disappear with discontinuation of use.
Further, if IDNS expects the public to follow all the other kinds of directives it will issue during an evacuation, it is ridiculous to believe that IDNS cannot train the public to follow just one more instruction on the use of KI. The fault here seems to be with IDNS lack of will -- or possibly its inability to perform its mission -- not the public's lack of understanding.
What We Recommend:
IDNS states that the Illinois Plan for Radiological Accidents (IPRA) has as its goal, "...to recommend protective actions for the EPZ population before any radioactive release occurs to ensure that no member of the public is unnecessarily exposed to a radiation hazard.". IDNS' position to not distribute KI within the EPZ runs contrary to their stated key objective. To remedy this:
1.) IDNS and nuclear power utilities should develop a plan that results in the distribution of an adequate dose of KI to each household within the 10-mile EPZ; and adequate stockpiles to institutions (schools, hospitals) and to "immobile population centers" (prisons, intensive care units) to insure receiving a KI dose before exposure.
2.) IDNS, in cooperation with nuclear utilities, medical experts, and interested and affected members of the public, should develop the necessary public education programs to reasonably insure that KI is administered properly, and overdosing is minimized. Funding for such educational and training programs should come from an increase in the fees already assessed by IDNS on nuclear utilities, which are deposited in the Nuclear Safety Emergency Preparedness Fund.
3.) Since residents within the 10-mile EPZ receive a new brochure on radiological response from nuclear utilities each year, this brochure should be revised to include specific instructions on the proper and safe use of KI.
4.) IDNS should establish a public advisory task force to review both the specific KI policy it has; and the IPRA in its entirety, to ensure that, "...no member of the public is unnecessarily exposed to a radiation hazard." stemming from a nuclear power accident.
We welcome your questions and comments at this time.
(847)869-7650; -7658 fax
P.O. Box 1637
Evanston, IL 60204-1637
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