Lawmaker urges President Obama not to keep millions of lives needlessly at risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the nuclear power industry, sent a letter to President Obama last week, urging him to revisit the Bush administration’s flawed decision to ignore a 2002 law requiring that the inexpensive and highly effective anti-radiation drug potassium iodide (KI) be provided to all communities living within 20 miles of our nation’s 104 nuclear power plants.


We need to be fully prepared for any type of nuclear emergency,” said Rep. Markey. “Potassium iodide is a simple, cheap, proven drug that can save lives in the event of a radiological release. Without it, millions of Americans are needlessly at risk in the event of a terrorist attack or a serious accident at a nuclear reactor.”

The Bush White House – intent on politicizing every scientific decision possible – ignored the will of Congress, the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences, and the findings of its own Health and Human Services Secretary.  Instead, President Bush chose to deny communities free access to this potentially life-saving drug.  I urge President Obama to fulfill his legal and moral obligation by reversing this decision and providing those living within 20 miles of nuclear reactors the protection they deserve.”

Use of the drug in the wake of a nuclear emergency greatly reduces the threat of cancer and other radiation-induced illnesses, particularly in children. In the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, thyroid cancer rates spiked 10,000% among children and adolescents in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Poland, however, administered KI to 97% of its children and experienced no similar increase in thyroid cancer.

The National Academy of Sciences’ exhaustive 2004 study of KI concluded that, "KI should be available to everyone at risk of significant health consequences from accumulation of radioiodine in the thyroid in the event of a radiological incident."  Yet instead of distributing KI to a 20-mile radius, the Bush Administration improperly invoked a clause that intended to halt the distribution of KI only if a superior drug was discovered.  However, instead of citing a new product, President Bush simply substituted evacuation and removal of contaminated foodstuffs for KI.

Rep Markey said, “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, despite advanced warning, state and local governments were unable to evacuate effectively, or provide adequate food and water to those who remained behind.  If timely evacuation in a nuclear emergency were similarly impossible, pre-distribution of KI would guarantee that communities were still protected.”

In his letter, Chairman Markey stated that the science supporting KI’s efficacy is sound, the results of its use are clear, and the law ordering its distribution has been on the books for over seven years.  However, the exercise of this mandate is long overdue, leaving the many Americans living near our nuclear power plants needlessly at risk in the event of a radiological accident or terrorist attack.   

A full copy of the letter can be found here

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