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The Illinois Emergency Management Agency will begin offering free potassium iodide pills to residents within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant. Potassium iodide is a non-prescription, over-the-counter drug that protects the thyroid from radioactive iodine should there be a nuclear power plant accident and release. Residents within 10 miles of any of the state’s six operating nuclear plants, which includes Exelon’s La Salle Generating Station near Seneca, should receive vouchers for the pills in the mail by mid-December, the agency said in a press release Tuesday. The vouchers can be redeemed at participating Walgreens stores. More than 60,000 homes estimated to be within “emergency planning zones” of each plant will receive vouchers. “Many people have moved into emergency planning zones around the nuclear plants since we last provided potassium iodide to the residents,” said agency director Jonathon Monken. This is the second time the state distributed potassium iodide pills to residents near nuclear power plants. The first time was in 2002. “Others may have added family members or lost their pills,” Monken said. “That’s why we felt it was time to make the pills available once again.” More than 40 participating Walgreens stores will provide a two-day supply of potassium iodide for every member of households that receive vouchers. The agency and the Illinois Poison Center will field questions about the medication. Potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland and will provide additional protection to people living near nuclear plants should a nuclear release occur. Evacuation and sheltering remain the most effective ways to protect the whole body from radiation exposure, which remains a top priority, Monken said. The Emergency Management Agency obtained 215,000 pills at no cost from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The state also maintains a supply of potassium iodide pills for emergency workers who would be called into or near contaminated areas during a nuclear power plant accident. In addition to the plant near Seneca, the other active nuclear power plants in Illinois are in Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden and Quad-Cities.