While Fukushima, Japan, is thousands of miles from North America, its nuclear meltdown that occurred after the 2011 tsunami, is driving new regulatory action.
The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission agreed upon regulations Friday that require nuclear power plants to provide potassium iodide pills to residents and businesses nearby — just in case.
This regulation and others were issued as a direct response to "lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear accident."
"Since the Fukushima accident, the CNSC has updated its requirements to further enhance nuclear safety and ensure that licensees and Canadians are thoroughly prepared to respond to any scenario," Dr. Michael Binder, president and CEO of the commission, said in a statement. "The pre-distribution of KI pills are just one of the many requirements established to protect people in the event of a nuclear emergency, no matter how improbable."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, potassium iodide can help block radioactive iodine from entering the thyroid gland, the "part of the body that is most sensitive to radioactive iodine."
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require potassium iodide pills in the event of a plant emergency because it believes "current emergency planning and protective measures — evacuation and sheltering — are adequate and protective of public health and safety."
The commission does, however, say that the pills could provide some positive supplemental value and leaves it up to states to decide whether to require them or not. When it comes to states making a decision on the use of the pills, the commission encourages them to consider whether or not they will distribute them before an accident occurs.
According to the Toronto Star, just how far away pill distribution would have to extend in Canada depends on each plant, but the typical range is eight to 16 kilometers (or about five to 10 miles).
The Star also included that the pills must be ready for “ready for prompt distribution” in a location where they can be "efficiently obtained by, or distributed to, members of the public when required."
The commission wrote on its website that it has "[incorporated] international post-Fukushima best practices and guidance for use by current and future Canadian licensees."