WASHINGTON (AP) — The Japanese nuclear crisis has reignited a debate in the U.S. over the government’s role in distributing a cheap anti-cancer drug to people living around nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission currently makes potassium iodide available to states for distribution within a 10-mile radius of nuclear power plants. Some House members from both parties want that expanded to 20 miles. And the American Thyroid Association, whose mission is to promote thyroid health, is urging that potassium iodide be made available within 200 miles of a nuclear plant.

If taken within a few of hours of radiation exposure, potassium iodide helps reduce the risk of thyroid cancer by preventing the body from absorbing radioactive iodine. It’s especially important for children, whose thyroid glands are more susceptible to radioactive iodine.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.