Why is Kuwait buying nukepills
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Mooresville calls itself "Race City USA" as home to NASCAR teams. But it's also home to Nukepills.com -- an online business housed just off Interstate 77 and upstairs from a real estate agency.
It's a very different Mooresville business -- one with connections to the Middle Eastern country of Kuwait.
But why Kuwait? And why now? Does the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health know something about nuclear security in the Middle East that we don't?
Troy Jones founded Nukepills.com to sell potassium iodide. The pills and liquid potassium iodide obviously couldn't protect against a nuclear blast. But they can protect against certain types of cancer caused by radioactive fallout.
"It protects the thyroid from radioactive iodine in the event of a nuclear blast or fallout from a nuclear reactor," said Jones.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Nukepills.com sold the same potassium iodide to government agencies in the U.S due to concerns about terrorists striking a nuke plant.
"Everybody was scrambling to get potassium iodide after 9/11," said Jones.
After the terrorist attacks, local governments around Charlotte handed out nukepills to anyone who lived within 10 miles of nuclear plants like Duke Energy's McGuire Station on Lake Norman or Catawba Station on Lake Wylie.
But recently Nukepills.com sold more than five million doses of the drug to Kuwait. Jones says Kuwait already had a stockpile of the tablet version of potassium iodide and then bought millions more doses of the liquid. And Jones says the Kuwaitis were in a hurry: "They were anxious to get it. They did not want any delays whatsoever. They were pushing us to make it faster and faster. You just can't make it that fast."
To try to find out why Kuwait was anxious to stockpile the nukepills, we called several experts in the nuclear politics of the Middle East. Several of them told us the answer lies in Iran -- and not because of the fear that Iran is building the bomb.
Ellen Laipson, president and CEO of the Stimson Center, a Washington think-tank focused on international relations, told us, "I do think they're more worried about the possibility of a Chernobyl-like accident than they are about a war scenario."
Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Reactor -- clearly visible in satellite photos publicly available through Google Earth -- sits directly on the coast of the Persian Gulf. It's a mere 150 miles east of the coast of Kuwait -- about as close as Raleigh is to Charlotte.
Laipson says that based on prevailing wind patterns, "Kuwait could be affected if there were to be some kind of accident at the Bushehr Reactor."
Charles D. Ferguson, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the Council on Foreign Relations, shared Laipson's view that the Kuwaitis are more concerned with a nuclear accident than a nuclear attack, even a so-called "dirty bomb."
Ferguson visited the United Arab Emirates and spoke to a number of Arab colleagues concerned about the Bushehr Reactor. And Ferguson says the Saudi government has tried to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear accident in the region for several years.
The Bushehr Reactor is scheduled to come online this spring, causing concern in the entire Persian Gulf region.
Troy Jones says the concern has led to business for Nukepills.com.
"Now I'm getting a lot of government sales and now we're working on a deal with Dubai and Hong Kong because of the sale that we did to Kuwait," Jones said.
In that sense, Nukepills.com's business is a kind of barometer of concern about citizen safety and civil defense -- a measure of uncertainty in a nuclear world.