- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 1, 2004


LONDON — The British government has extended its supply of antiradiation pills to cover 50 percent of the population because of the increased risk of a terrorist attack.

The potassium-iodate tablets, which are stockpiled at hospitals across the country, protect the body from the effects of radioactive iodine emitted by nuclear weapons, including so-called dirty bombs.

Britain previously had held stocks of these tablets to cover only about 200,000 people living near nuclear-power stations or naval bases where there are nuclear submarines.

In September, however, John Reid, the health secretary, was advised by the security service that terrorists were trying to obtain a nuclear device and that it would be a sensible precaution to protect 30 million people.

Orders costing nearly $90 million were placed with medical suppliers, and the drugs were distributed to hospitals two months ago. The tablets have been distributed mainly in urban areas.

British and U.S. intelligence services are convinced that there is a real and imminent threat.

In 2002, Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen linked to al Qaeda, was arrested in Chicago on suspicion of plotting to set off a dirty bomb. Three others were arrested in Pakistan, where uranium is sold on the black market.

In November 2001, an al Qaeda handbook, which described how to make a dirty nuclear bomb with a small amount of radioactive material, was found in an abandoned house in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A government official said, “Buying these tablets does not mean we expect a bomb immediately, but we are prepared.”

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