Nuclear watchdog proposing pill distribution near reactors

Radiation-fighting pills are a precaution in case of accident

OTTAWA – Canada’s nuclear watchdog for the first time is proposing that people living near reactors be given a precautionary stock of radiation-fighting pills in case of an accident.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has been reviewing the country’s emergency preparedness and response regulations in the wake of the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima reactor in 2011.

Many countries have already adopted a system where residents near nuclear reactors are given iodine thyroid blocking tablets to store in their homes.

The thyroid glands, especially in younger children, are the most susceptible to absorbing radiation that is ingested or inhaled.

The safety commission has been consulting with various groups, including environmentalists and nuclear license holders, on its latest regulatory draft. It is proposing the tablets be made available within “plume” area of radiation, of about 10 kilometres, for a selective portion of the population.

Some energy producers have expressed concern about the proposal, and have balked at the idea that a “selective” pre-distribution be undertaken for a wider area beyond the first 10 kilometres.

A nuclear safety commission document summarizing the comments lists Ontario Power Generation as wanting to delete the words “selective pre-distribution” and adding the words “the opportunity for pre-distribution…will be made” within the 10-kilometre zone.

The current draft document does not make mention of distribution tablets to Canadians outside that immediate area.

Licensees will have to collaborate with authorities to “ensure that a sufficient quantity of iodine thyroid blocking (ITB) agents is pre-distributed to all residences, businesses and institutions within the designated plume exposure zone,” reads the draft.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Canadian Environmental Law Association argue the Fukushima incident proves that radiation can drift much further than just 10 kilometres. They point to other countries that have expanded their distribution areas.

“This is a good step towards catching up with other countries, Canadians deserve protection on par with international best practices,” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a nuclear analyst with Greenpeace.

“The way it’s written right now it doesn’t meet international best practices, but it’s a good step towards that.”