Reversing its position again, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 22 December said states should consider stockpiling potassium iodide (KI) for distribution to the general public in the event of a severe nuclear plant accident. Actual decisions whether to stockpile and use the drug would be up to individual states, or in some cases local governments.
The NRC said it would provide funding to states or local governments that choose to incorporate KI as part of their emergency plans. The Commission set aside $400,000 in FY 2001, which began in October, for the programme and will request similar funding for FY 2002.
The NRC directed its staff to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to find “the most efficient and cost-effective way to fund the stockpiles”. The NRC also said it would consider providing funding to pay for stockpile replenishment, but made no commitment to do so. KI blocks the thyroid gland's uptake of radioactive iodine.
Current NRC rules provide for its dispersal only to emergency workers responding to a nuclear plant accident and to certain institutionalised populations, such as hospital patients, within designated emergency planning zones. Some emergency planning officials are concerned that members of the general public may delay evacuating an area if given the drug.
In June 1997, the Commission voted to pay for states to stockpile KI for distribution to the general public, but then reversed itself in April 1999 and voted against the programme. NRC chairman Richard Meserve said the latest policy reversal reflects the changing makeup of the five-member Commission.