Fri, Mar 29, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Activists say nuclear safety measures are falling short

NUCLEAR THREAT Protesters said yesterday that officials were playing fast and loose with the health of residents near nuclear plants and steel works employees

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Atomic Energy Council (AEC) is failing to ensure the health and safety of residents living near nuclear power plants and workers who have transported scrap metal containing radioactive sources, anti-nuclear activists said yesterday.

On the 23rd anniversary of the USs worst ever nuclear catastrophe, the 1979 Three Mile Island incident, activists said yesterday that the government should keep the disaster in mind and improve its radioactive protection measures as soon as possible.

The activists, from the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU, 台灣環保聯盟), urged the government to distribute potassium iodide pills to residents living within 30km of all nuclear power plants, saying that would be the only way for residents to obviate the risk of thyroid cancer in the event of radiation leaks.

Nuclear explosions create a lot of radioactive iodine which, when ingested into the body, tends to collect in the thyroid gland. Potassium iodide pills, which contain about 76.5 percent iodine, work by saturating the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine, thereby preventing a build-up of radioactive iodine if taken before exposure.

An experiment by National Taiwan University's atmospheric science department suggests that two hours after a nuclear accident, radiation fallout would spread as far as 30km away.

According to the TEPU, the US government has been more careful about preventing nuclear accidents since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US. Two states in the US, Massachusetts and Maryland, have said they would accept the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's offer to provide the pills.

"So what are we waiting for? The distribution of the pills will also make sure we don't reduce our vigilance," TEPU Vice Chairman Hsu Kuang-jung (徐光蓉) said.

In the US, Hsu said, the NRC limited its offer of potassium iodide to those living within 16.1km of nuclear plants, the area that federal regulators have determined must be evacuated if there is an emergency.

In a nuclear emergency in Taiwan, Taiwan Power Company (Taipower,台電) is obliged to distribute potassium iodide tablets to those living within 5km of nuclear plants, Hsu said.

AEC officials, however, said it wasn't necessary to distribute counter-radiation pills in Taiwan.

"It's not easy for residents to keep such pills appropriately at home. Besides, we have confidence that Taipower could distribute pills to people in need as soon as possible after a nuclear power plant mishap," Su Shian-jang (蘇獻章), director of the AEC's Department of Radiation Protection, told the Taipei Times.

Anti-nuclear activists also urged the AEC to arrange physical examinations for workers who unknowingly transported radioactive rods of cesium-137 and krypton-85 hidden in scrap metal recently.

Su said that truck drivers and workers at steelworks where the radioactive rods were discovered were not in danger because the length of exposure to radiation was very short.

"Taking the cesium-137 rod discovered in Taichung in early March as an example, someone would have to hold the rod for 20 hours before exposure to the person would exceed the recommended limit for the general public," Su said.

The danger posed by the rod containing krypton-85 gas discovered in Kaohsiung on Monday was even less, Su said.

"You don't need to worry about it [krypton gas] even if you inhale it. It's an inert gas which hardly reacts with others," Su said.

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