New tablets designed to protect against radiation in the case of a nuclear accident will be available Monday for residents living near any of South Carolina’s five nuclear plants.
The potassium iodide pills — known as “KI tablets” in relation to their chemical symbol — will be provided for free beginning Monday to anyone living within the 10-mile emergency planning zone of a nuclear plant, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The over-the-counter drug protects the human thyroid gland from a particular form of iodine radiation, but they aren’t intended as a complete “radiation shield,” DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said.
“It is critical to remember this is not a magic pill that protects against all types of radiation,” Templeton said.
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“In the event of a nuclear power plant emergency involving the release of radiation, the best advice is to follow the instructions of public safety officials to either stay inside or to evacuate the area in an orderly manner.”
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission distributes the doses to South Carolina as part of a program begun in 2001.
The 2.4 million tablets will cover 1.2 million adults and be distributed by hand to 13 counties’ health departments, where residents can pick them up for themselves and their families, DHEC said.
The new tablets come as a previous round of tablets distributed in 2007 expires this year. The new tablets will expire in 2017. The retail cost of 10 doses is between $15 to $20, DHEC spokeswoman Lindsey Evans said.
Old tablets can simply be thrown away, as they are inherently stable chemically, according to the NRC.
The thyroid gland soaks up the potassium iodide so that radioactive iodine doesn’t accumulate and lead to illnesses such as hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer, the NRC said.
The NRC said the distribution doesn’t imply that nuclear plants are any less safe.