Lawmakers at the legislature’s Health, Environment and Social Welfare Committee yesterday questioned the nation’s ability to respond to nuclear crises, as it has yet to be determined which government organization is to be responsible for distributing iodine tablets to the public to prevent radioactive contamination in the event of a nuclear disaster.
Officials from the Department of Health (DOH), the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), the Ministry of National Defense (MND) and Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) were asked to brief the committee on how they would react to a nuclear meltdown, particularly their plans to provide emergency medical service and deploy medical personnel, as well as their assessment of the long-term impact of an accident on the people’s health and how much it would cost the National Health Insurance program.
Radioactive iodine is quickly absorbed by the thyroid gland once it enters a person’s body, and could damage their health.
Consuming stable iodine tablets protects the thyroid from absorbing radioactive iodine.
AEC deputy minister Chou Yuan-ching (周源卿) said that the council has prepared 260,000 boxes of iodine tablets to distribute to those living within an 8km radius of the nuclear power plants, also known as the “run-for-your-life circle.”
He added that each resident would receive one box of tablets.
The council has also prepared an additional 400,000 boxes of iodine tablets for those living outside the circle. These boxes are currently in an army storage facility.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tien Chiu-ching (田秋堇) said parts of New Taipei City (新北市) would be covered by radioactive dust within one to two hours after a nuclear disaster.
She asked whether the AEC or MND would be in charge of distributing the tables.
In response, Chou said the tablets would be delivered to the county governments by the MND’s Medical Affairs Bureau.
His answer was immediately dismissed by the bureau’s Director-General Chang Deh-ming (張德明), who said the bureau was only mandated to store the iodine tablets and had not been asked to deliver them to the public.
Chou said the council would discuss the matter with the ministry.
Referring to the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant and the “Fukushima 50,” a nickname given to the group of employees who stayed at the crippled nuclear power plant after the disaster, Tien asked if the state-run electricity firm could provide a similar list of employees who would guard the nuclear power plants with their lives.
In response, Taipower president Lee Han-shen (李漢申) said the nuclear power plants were in operation 24 hours a day, and staff in each shift are authorized to judge the situation and take action if necessary.
The company has a list of employees on each shift, but is not permitted to make it public under the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法), the company’s president said.
The DOH said it would have about 17,000 beds in hospitals nationwide ready for use if a nuclear disaster occurs.
Aside from the iodine tablets prepared by the AEC, the DOH said it could ask pharmaceutical firms to produce 500,000 extra tablets per day to meet demand.