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Israel has recently replenished its supply of Lugol iodine tablets - which protect against radiation damage - because the country's current stocks were out of date, defense officials told members of the Knesset Interior Committee during a visit Sunday to the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.

No decision has been taken, however, whether to distribute the pills to people living near the Dimona and Soreq reactors, due to concerns about arousing a public panic and opposition to the move from local leaders.

Lugol decreases significantly the danger of thyroid damage in the event of exposure to radioactive iodine in a leak from a reactor caused by an accident, malfunction or strike. It does not protect against nuclear weapons or a "dirty bomb," which do not release radioactive iodine.

In August 2004, Lugol tablets were distributed to residents of Dimona, Yeruham, Arara in the Negev, Kseife and the unrecognized Bedouin communities. They were not distributed in Arad, Yavneh or the Ramat Hanegev regional council due to opposition from municipal heads.

The visiting MKs learned that an electrical particle accelerator is scheduled to take over, within eight years, all of the functions currently performed by the Soreq reactor, including nuclear medicine, aviation and space.

"If Israel adheres to the schedule, it would be the first country to replace a nuclear reactor with a particle accelerator," Dr. Dan Berkovits of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center said. No mention was made during the tour of the center, however, about the possible closure of the reactor once the accelerator is operable.

Committee chairman MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), called the accelerator plan "a step in the right direction."