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It’s a pill no one wants to use. But in parts of York County, it could be important.

South Carolina recently received more than 1.2 million adult doses of potassium iodide pills, for distribution within 10 miles of five nuclear power plants, including the Catawba Nuclear Station.
South Carolina recently received more than 1.2 million adult doses of potassium iodide pills, for distribution within 10 miles of five nuclear power plants, including the Catawba Nuclear Station.

Now that folks are back to school, they can steer their attention to less stressful matters like how to survive a nuclear emergency.

South Carolina recently received more than 1.2 million adult doses of potassium iodide pills, for distribution within 10 miles of five nuclear power plants, including the Catawba Nuclear Station. People living or working within that radius can get them starting today.

The KI tablets came from the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and will be distributed by health departments in 13 counties. Tablets are free; participation is voluntary.

“Potassium iodide provides protection for the thyroid gland against radioactive iodine,” said Chris Staton, emergency response director for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. “Radioactive iodine is one of the materials we are likely to see come out of a damaged nuclear reactor.”

Pill distribution isn’t any indication of problems with the nuclear plants. The health department started distributing tablets back in 2002. It’s an emergency precaution measure.

But tablets expire. Some have October 2017 expiration dates. The new pills won’t expire until December 2026. Old pills can be thrown out with household trash.

Chuck Haynes, director of the York County Office of Emergency Management, said his group is aware of the pills, but has little to do with distribution.

“The stockpiles that they keep is part of our plan, but that's totally a DHEC conversation,” he said.

What people living and working near Catawba Nuclear Station shouldn’t read into news about the new pills, Haynes said, is that the plant poses some new or eminent danger.

“The pills have an expiration date, a shelf life like any other medication, so they’re changed out accordingly,” he said. “This has been occurring ever since the program was set up.”

On the other hand, should a nuclear situation occur, he said, people should remember it will take more than a pill to ensure their safety.

“It is critical to remember that potassium iodide is not a magic pill that protects against all types of radiation,” Staton said. “In the event of a nuclear power plant emergency, the best advice is always to follow the instructions of emergency management officials to either shelter inside or to evacuate the area in an orderly manner.”

The 10-mile around around Catawba Nuclear covers Lake Wylie, Tega Cay and Steele Creek in North Carolina. It covers part of Fort Mill, Clover, York and Rock Hill.

The two area pick-up sites are health department offices at 116 N. Congress St. in York and 1070 Heckle Boulevard, Suite 307 in Rock Hill. Both are open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

For more on potassium iodide and radiation, visit scdhec.gov/radiation.

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