Every day Fairewinds Energy Education receives many questions. The big question in the New Year is: “Should I take a ‘radiation pill’ to combat the radiation being given off by the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi?”
First, lets start by defining a radiation protection pill is and what it does. A radiation protection pill is usually called potassium iodide because it consists of potassium iodide KI which is the scientific notation for this molecule consisting of the elements potassium (K) and iodine (I). Unfortunately, potassium iodide only protects against one type of radiation, radioactive iodine. It does not protect against the hundreds of other radioactive isotopes released in nuclear meltdowns.
How does a potassium iodide (KI) pill work?
Your thyroid routinely absorbs iodine (I), non-radioactive iodine that is! Natural [non-radioactive] iodine is added to ordinary table salt to help give your thyroid gland the iodine it needs to function correctly.
During a nuclear accident or meltdown like those at Fukushima Daiichi an enormous amount of radioactive iodine is emitted for 90-days and then it is gone from the environment, unless there is a new meltdown. When radioactive Iodine (I) is being released during a nuclear accident or meltdown, and at that time only, it is important to prevent your thyroid from absorbing the radioactive iodine, so it is a good idea to take potassium iodide (KI) pills. These pills will saturate your thyroid with good non-radioactive iodine and prevent the radioactive iodine from being absorbed.
To be effective, the KI pills must be taken shortly after the beginning of an accident. That way the good, non-radioactive iodine gets to your thyroid before the radioactive variety arrives.
How long should I take KI? Shouldn’t I continue forever since radiation lasts for 250,000 years? Two words of caution:
- Radioactive iodine has a half-life of 8 days, so it completely decays away [dissipates] in 90 days or less. Taking KI pills for more than 90 days is a waste of money and is also potentially very dangerous to your health.
- KI pills can have negative health side effects in some people and should not be taken unless a severe nuclear accident is in progress near where you live. We considered using KI in Vermont after the Fukushima accident, but chose not to because the risks outweighed the potential benefits. See side effects.
Many countries stockpile potassium iodide pills near nuclear facilities or nuclear weapon target areas in order to protect public health and safety. In case there is a nuclear accident or nuclear war, the pills can quickly be distributed to protect peoples’ thyroid glands. Unfortunately, after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, even though KI was readily available nearby, Japanese government officials did not release most of it in time to help or at all due to conflicting orders by different branches of government.
Stockpiling KI pills in the US has been an issue with the NRC for decades. Former NRC attorney Peter Crane was a hero when he petitioned the NRC to take action. It is only suggested that nuclear facilities, states, or communities near by, stockpile KI in case of an accident or meltdown. More…
Finally, there is no protection against the hundreds of other radioactive isotopes released following an accident or meltdown. White protective suits worn by the workers at Fukushima prevent hot particles from touching the workers’ skin. The gamma rays from the radiation on the site pass right through the suits and irradiate the workers. Moreover, the radiation plume moving offsite knows no boundaries and will meander wherever the weather pushes the radioactive plume, thus impacting many people considered outside the radiation path, until they have been exposed. Unlike oil or chemical fires that smoke and may been seen for miles, radiation cannot be seen, so people do not know they are being exposed.
Lastly, some medical doctors are working on ways of helping people recover from some radiation exposures. For example, Dr. John Apsley in Seattle, Washington, has been working with cancer patients to help them recover from medical radiation. He has applied that methodology to the possibility of radiation exposure from the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown. Fairewinds Energy Education has listed his book on its website booklist: Fukushima Meltdown & Modern Radiation: Protecting Ourselves and Our Future Generations Dr. John Apsley, 2011. Dr. Apsley explains the health risks of nuclear power with emphasis on the implications of the Fukushima incident. He presents ways to protect and detoxify our bodies from the harmful effects of radiation.