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City officials, doctors, public seek expansion of KI for nuclear disaster preparedness around Fermi-2 reactor

Credit: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory CommissionOn February 4, 2019, the Ann Arbor City Council in Southeast Michigan unanimously passed a municipal resolution calling on the State and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to upgrade radiological disaster preparedness around the Fermi Unit 2 nuclear power station, approximately 30-miles away, in Monroe, MI. Specifically, the city is requesting the State and the NRC to strategically stockpile potassium iodide (KI) tablets in city schools, hospitals, police and fire stations for the population-level protection of the thyroid, particularly those of infants, young children through 18 years old and pregnant woman and lactating mothers, from radioactive iodine released during a severe nuclear accident.  KI, if ingested shortly after a radioactive release and accompanied by evacuation, sheltering-in-place and avoiding contaminated food, water and milk, is effective in saturating the thyroid with stable iodine and preventing the absorption of cancer-causing radioiodine.

In fact, Ann Arbor officials are seeking the same level of disaster medicine preparedness as already provided Canadians living within Fermi nuclear station’s internationally recognized 50-mile emergency planning zone. The Fermi radiological emergency planning zone spans Lake Erie and the US and Canada border. Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Ontario health officials and Canadian nuclear regulators required in 2014 the predistribution and stockpiling of KI to Canadian populations around all Canadian nuclear power stations. In December 2017, the Ontario Provincial Government expanded the predistribution of KI to Canadians living in radiological emergency planning zones for the U.S.-based nuclear power stations in Michigan (Fermi-2) and Ohio (Davis-Besse and Perry).

The Ann Arbor municipal resolution---introduced by Beyond Nuclear, city residents and a Michigan safe energy coalition---is supported by the American Thyroid Association (ATA).  In testimony before City Council on the night of the vote, Dr. Thomas Giordano, an Ann Arbor resident, a pathologist with University of Michigan’s Michigan Medicine and ATA board member, supported passage of the municipal resolution. Dr. Giordano emphasized the importance of KI pre-distribution and stockpiling around nuclear power stations to protect the youngest and most vulnerable population and that it should be required---not just an option.

The City of Ann Arbor is now preparing a KI lobby campaign to approach state and Washtenaw County emergency planners and public health officials as well as the NRC. Beyond Nuclear will work with Ann Arbor officials and broaden its public outreach to foster support for the resolution in municipalities within the emergency planning zone of Fermi and other U.S. reactors.

Currently, the availability of free KI tablets from the NRC  for the prophylactic protection of the thyroid from cancer-causing radioactive iodine released during a nuclear accident is an optional volutary program for states affected by nuclear power plants' 10-mile  evacuation planning zones. Of those states participating, KI is distributed within the 10-mile EPZ through vouchers sent in the mail with utility bills that can be redeemed for KI tablets on designated calendar dates at designiated pickup stations. A 2012 study by Michigan health health officials determined that little more that 5% of eligible receipents actually picked up their tablets.