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Police u-turn leads to pill release

PUBLISHED: 08:08 05 June 2003 | UPDATED: 13:57 03 March 2010

A POLICE u-turn led to the decision to give stocks of anti-radiation tablets to people living near the Sizewell nuclear site, it emerged today.

About 200 residents within a 2.4 kilometre radius of the site have received letters outlining plans to pre-distribute potassium iodate tablets, which help protect the body's thyroid gland from absorbing cancer-causing radioactivity.

A POLICE u-turn led to the decision to give stocks of anti-radiation tablets to people living near the Sizewell nuclear site, it emerged today.

About 200 residents within a 2.4 kilometre radius of the site have received letters outlining plans to pre-distribute potassium iodate tablets, which help protect the body's thyroid gland from absorbing cancer-causing radioactivity.

Existing emergency plans are for the distribution of the tablets in the immediate aftermath of an accident.

The proposed change was previously thought to be associated with new advice from radiation watchdog, the National Radiological Protection Board, that the tablets should be taken as soon as possible after exposure to radiation, especially to protect toddlers and unborn babies.

However, a fact sheet sent with the letter claims the reason is a decision by Suffolk police to no longer accept responsibility for distribution in the event of an accident.

The decision follows advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers which has been adopted around nuclear sites elsewhere in the country.

It is understood that members of the association had expressed concerns about manpower implications and whether officers would have adequate radiation protection equipment.

Jeff Stacey, Suffolk county emergency planning officer, said: "For practical reasons the police do not think they can fulfil their obligation to distribute the medication to everyone who needs it, when they need it."

Mr Stacey said in the event of a major accident at Sizewell and a decision to recommend the taking of the potassium iodate tablets, local authority officials would liase with the emergency services over the best way of checking that everyone affected had supplies.

"Even though they no longer had sole responsibility the police could still play a part," he added.

Mr Stacey said officials were still looking at calls for an extension of the emergency planning zone to include villages such as Dunwich.

A Suffolk Police spokesman said: "National guidance, already adopted elsewhere in the country, states it is not appropriate for police officers to distribute the tablets as they are not qualified to deal with health related issues raised by the public.

"Suffolk Police would like to reassure people that until any firm decisions are made officers will assist in the distribution of these tablets in any nuclear emergency."

The spokesman said lack of protective gear was not a factor in the local situation.

Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said his group had been campaigning for eight years for pre-distribution of the anti-radiation tablets.

"While we welcome the move, the tablets should be issued to residents within a much wide accident because if a major release of radioactivity does occur it will affect hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people," he added.

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