JUNEAU -- If Alaska had a radiation emergency, it would rely on the national stockpile of medical material to treat its residents, and the nearest supply is somewhere in the Lower 48, state officials said Tuesday.
That could be a problem in the event of an unanticipated or quickly developing crisis. Potassium iodide, one of the key medications to prevent long-term thyroid disease caused by radioactive iodine, should ideally be taken two hours before exposure through four hours after, and longer if the threat continues, said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which manages the stockpile, would take up to 12 hours just to get supplies to Alaska, said Chris Laborde, state manager of public health preparedness.
That's probably not a problem with the current nuclear crisis in Japan. State and federal officials say it's extremely unlikely that the Fukushima reactors would release a large enough volume of radioactive material to affect Alaska. Even if an explosive release occurred, it would take air currents two days to carry the material to the Aleutians and another day to reach Southcentral Alaska, allowing time to bring in supplies from Lower 48 depots, officials said.
But there are other potential sources of nuclear fission material upwind from Alaska in Russia, China and the Koreas, and nuclear-powered vessels, from Russian icebreakers to U.S. submarines, routinely sail in northern waters. While experts say that North Korea currently lacks the ability to send a missile to Alaska, it has demonstrated some capability at making nuclear weapons.
The situation involving the CDC stockpile emerged from hearings in Juneau Tuesday at the Senate State Affairs Committee. Chairman Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, called the session to examine how radiation is being monitored in Alaska and how state and federal officials would respond to a radiation emergency. The House Health and Social Services Committee also looked at the issue.
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