It's a "hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst" type of situation.
On Tuesday, November 27th, 2012, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) announced plans to begin offering free Potassium Iodide (KI) pills to residents living within a 10-mile radius of the state's six operating nuclear power plants. One of those plants includes Exelon's Quad Cities Generating Station in Cordova, Illinois.
"No one should be alarmed," says Bill Stoermer, Communications Manager with the Quad Cities Generating Station. "That’s done as a precaution in the highly unlikely event that there would ever be any type of a significant radioactive release in the area, so it’s purely precautionary... not meant to alarm anyone, not meant to make anyone uncomfortable with having a nuclear power plant here in the Quad Cities."
KI is a non-prescription drug used to protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine, which could be released during a nuclear power plant accident. More than 60,000 homes within the Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs) of each plant will receive a voucher in mid-December that can be redeemed for the pills at participating Walgreens stores.
Some residents, especially those who live on the edge of the 10-mile radius in Port Byron, say they don't think twice that the plant is nearby.
"I don`t ever think about it," says Teresa Bird, who lives in Port Byron. "The only time I think about it is if I drive by it. I've never been worried about anything ever happening."
Others say the nuclear disaster in Japan last March is a reminder that the plant is so close.
"I know it's on my mind at times that we are so close, but I think they take a lot of very good precautions down there and keep us informed with what safety measures we need to take," says Cathy Burt, who works in Port Byron.
"There are significant differences between the plants in Japan and the 104 operating nuclear reactors in the United States," says Stoermer.
Stoermer adds there's new lessons learned and measures met to ensure the plant is ready for anything.
"There are things that we are doing differently today and additional precautions we are taking not only at the plant in Cordova, but at all the Exelon facilities and all the plants across the United States just to ensure that these remain some of the safest and most robust and highly professionally operated facilities in the United States."
As for the precautionary pills...
"I don`t know that I would run out and buy something, but maybe for some families that would give them security and safety," says Burt.
"I would go get them," says Bird. "I mean, it doesn't hurt to have them in case something was to happen."
And Stoermer says if it does, the first step will be making sure everyone is away from the area before they even need to use them.
"Evacuation is by far the safest thing people can do and that would be our first mode of going into action in the unlikely event that we ever had to."
The 10-mile radius also includes two counties in Iowa. However, the Iowa Department of Public Health has chosen not to make the pills available at this time.