SIZEWELL - PROTECTION FROM RADIATION
|Potassium iodate will not be given to everyone
A radioactive leak can have devastating results but one small pill could protect you.
Inside Out exclusively reveals how for the first time these life saving tablets will be available to families living close to the Sizewell nuclear power station.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, nuclear power stations have become plausible targets for terrorists. A radiation leak can have devastating effects.
The Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk is the focus of controversy as a pill which can protect against some radiation is made available for the first time.
This summer, for the first time, families living within 2.4km of Sizewell will be given potassium iodate to store at home as a precaution against radiation leaks.
The tablets are being paid for by Sizewell Nuclear Power Plant and will be distributed by Suffolk coastal District Council.
This is little comfort to those living in Ipswich and Cambridge who depending on weather conditions, could also be affected.
|Those living within a 2.4km distance of Sizewell will receive the tablets
It is believed that the plume of invisible, odourless, tasteless radiation could travel to surrounding areas and even as far as London, depending on weather conditions.
But for these families, potassium iodate is not easily available in advance.
A radiation leak is said to cause a number of life threatening conditions including cancer, tumours and birth defects.
If taken within two hours the potassium iodate tablets protect the thyroid gland from the effects of radioactive iodine.
Inside Out presenter David Whiteley gained exclusive access to a top security emergency planning meeting at Sizewell to find out more.
According to the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), the tablets will only be necessary for those living in close proximity to the plant.
Potassium Iodate tablets protect against 4 or 5 of the many types of radioactive materials known as radionucleids present in a nuclear reactor.
Potassium Iodate specifically protects against those containing a substance called Iodine 131.
They do this by flooding the thyroid gland with iodine, which, if not fully topped would otherwise absorb harmful radionucleids instead. These enter the thyroid via inhalation and can cause thyroid cancer, tumours and birth defects.
Children, pregnant and nursing women are most at risk.
The types of radiation the potassium iodate tablets can afford protection from would comprise about 60% of the release in the first two or three hours after an 'incident'.
Mary Morrey of the NRPB and a representative of Sizewell explains.
"The health and safety executive works with engineers at the power station to work out what accidents might happen and where different levels of exposure to radioactive iodine might occur."
"They have decided on this 2.4km," continues Mary "and believe that beyond this distance, the sorts of doses that the NRPB recommend tablets should be provided for would not happen."
"It is meaningless nonsense to actually put a limit of 2.4km on," says John Large, a Nuclear Consultant.
"It depends on the scale of the incident, the scale of the radioactive release, then more so the weather conditions," continues John.
"These tablets may be required up to 50 to 100km."
Over the counter
Potassium iodate is classed as a 'pharmacy only medication', meaning chemists are legally permitted to obtain the tablets for the public.
This is some comfort although Dr Amanda Jones warns that many chemists would not ordinarily have them in stock.
|John Large believes that potassium iodate may be needed by people living up to 100km away
The situation should improve as news of the tablets availability spreads to chemists, but the issue of distribution is still to be addressed.
Those living within 2.4km of Sizewell will already have access to the tablets by summer 2003.
Those outside the area will have to await distribution from the emergency services.
John Large remains sceptical.
"If you had a major incident at Sizewell then the potential for release would be so great that the local emergency services just couldn't service it."
The future for mass distribution of potassium iodine remains uncertain. But with worried residents living outside of the 2.4km catchement, the battle for pre-distribution looks set to continue.