Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What You Should Know about Potassium Iodide and Atomic Fallout

What You Should Know about Potassium Iodide and Atomic Fallout

The Nuclear Power Industry’s Historic Delay for Civilian Protection

On December 10, 2001 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) renewed its call for the widespread stockpiling of a thyroid-blocking medicine that prevents the absorption of radioactive iodine. Following the FDA announcement the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) ended its long-standing debate over the civilian stockpiling of potassium iodide (KI). The NRC declared that it will fund civilian supplies for one to two doses per individual for persons within the current 10-mile emergency planning zone of every nuclear power station in the US.  The American Thyroid Association had also urged the federal government to distribute KI with a particular focus on the vulnerability of children’s thyroid glands caught downwind of a radioactive iodine release from a nuclear power plant accident or sabotage. The nuclear industry and the NRC had previously argued against KI distribution saying it would be too hard to administrate and hinder more practical civilian evacuations in the event of an accident. In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and NRC revised their policy directing states to consider KI stockpiling and distribution.

In December 1978, the FDA first announced that it had determined that KI was safe and effective as a thyroid protection medicine in the event of a nuclear accident. At that time the agency was essentially ignored by NRC and FEMA neither of which took action to make KI publicly available. Three months following the FDA recommendation the Three Mile Island nuclear generating station had a core melt accident on March 28, 1979. On March 30, 1979 an FDA official arranged an emergency purchase order to Mallinckrodt Chemical Company for the immediate production of 250,000 doses of potassium iodide to begin distribution in Pennsylvania 24 hours later.  It was President Carter’s “Kemeny Commission” investigation into the aftermath of TMI that was first critical of the NRC’s failure to take precautionary action by distributing adequate supplies of the thyroid protection medicine.  The nuclear power industry would successfully lobby the NRC and FEMA against KI distribution for another 23 years to prevent a nationwide thyroid protection plan. Today, state governments are only beginning to implement a new NRC/FEMA guidance plan for KI distribution.

The government foot dragging stems more from nuclear industry’s concerted effort to protect its “safe power” image than protect the American public from a potential accident. Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power accident in Ukraine, the Polish government was prepared to distribute KI to millions of Poland’s children with apparent success in reducing the number of thyroid cancers and abnormalities that now plague other less fortunate populations in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine not afforded the medical protection.  While every nuclear power plant operator in the United States has stockpiled enough KI for its employees and emergency workers entire communities including children in our homes, daycare centers and schools are being denied the same level of immediate protection.

How KI Protects The Thyroid Gland From Radioactive Iodine Releases

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck. While especially important to children for producing growth hormone, the thyroid gland also produces hormones which influence essentially every organ, every tissue and every cell in the body regulating the body's metabolism and organ function, affecting heart rate, cholesterol level, body weight, energy level, muscle strength, skin condition, menstrual regularity, memory and many other conditions.  To make thyroid hormone, the thyroid gland uses dietary iodine and supplements in salt, water and other sources.

Radioactive Iodine-131 generated in nuclear power plants is a major human health concern in an airborne release from a damaged reactor because its mobility and radioactivity, having an 8 day half-life. Radioactive iodine is quickly absorbed and concentrated by the thyroid. Researchers have consistently reported that children who were exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster are developing an aggressive form of thyroid cancer sooner and in larger numbers than expected. Children are particularly susceptible to thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine because their thyroid glands are small and concentrate the iodine from radioactive fallout because they drink more milk and get larger doses of radioactive iodine and because their thyroids are thought to be more vulnerable to radiation.

 Potassium iodide, if taken prior to the passage of the radioactive plume, saturates the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine and blocks the uptake of radioactive iodine so that it can be excreted. Prophylactic doses of KI can thus prevent thyroid cancers and other thyroid diseases that might otherwise be caused by exposure to radioactive iodine dispersed in a severe nuclear accident or sabotage.  While KI is considered by the FDA to be safe and effective enough for over-the-counter distribution, the necessary dosage levels and duration of KI uptake are still considered a medicine by the American Thyroid Association and people are advised to consult a physician and pediatrician for appropriate dosages.

Potassium Iodide Does Not Protect Against All Radiation Exposure

 The stockpiling of KI should be viewed as an important precaution for communities downwind of nuclear power plants. But radioactive iodine is only one of many radioactive by-products that would be simultaneously released from a damaged reactor.  For example, a release would also contain radioactive fallout of cesium-137 and strontium-90 each with a half-life of 30 years.

While broadly categorized as an “anti-radiation” pill, KI does not protect populations caught downwind from these other long-lived radioactive isotopes. People caught under a passing radioactive cloud would also be exposed to whole body doses of harmful gamma rays and potentially lethal radiation sickness. Inhalation and ingestion of other radioactive gases and particulate would cause cancers and diseases in the lungs, digestive system, blood and reproductive organs.

For further information contact: Nuclear Information and Resource Service,
1424 16th Street NW Suite 404,
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202-328-0002



"There is no safe level of exposure and there is no dose of (ionizing) radiation so low that the risk of a malignancy is zero" --Dr. Karl Morgan, the father of Health Physics


Radiation is energy that travels in waves. It includes visible light, ultraviolet light, radio waves and other forms, including particles. Each type of radiation has different properties. Non-ionizing radiation can shake or move molecules. Ionizing radiation can break molecular bonds, causing unpredictable chemical reactions. Ionizing radiation includes not only energy waves but particles as well. Humans cannot see, feel, taste, smell or hear ionizing radiation. Unavoidable exposure to ionizing radiation comes from cosmic rays and some natural material. Human exposure to natural radiation is responsible for a certain number of mutations and cancers. Additional exposure above natural background radiation is cause for concern since it may result in otherwise preventable disease.


Ionizing radiation is matter or energy that is given off by the nucleus of an unstable atom in the process of decaying and reaching a stable (ground) state. This energy is released in the form of subatomic particles (alpha and beta) or waves (gamma and x rays). Most elements and their atoms are not radioactive. A few radioactive elements, like uranium, radium, and thorium, occur in nature.

Humans, through nuclear power, bomb production and testing, have created and released man-made radioactive elements (radionuclides) that were previously unknown in the environment. Through mining and industrial processing naturally radioactive elements like uranium and thorium have been released to flow through the natural systems on which life depends. These substances were, with few exceptions, geologically isolated from the environment under layers of shale and quartz before human beings dug them up by the ton and contaminated the biosphere. Because of poorly conceived and implemented nuclear technologies, such as atomic energy, bomb production and reprocessing, we and our descendants are left with a legacy of radioactive waste with no proven isolation method.


Alpha particles are high energy, large subatomic structures. They can’t travel very far and can be stopped by a piece of paper or skin. However, alpha particles hit hard and can do a great deal of damage to the cells they rip through. Once inhaled, ingested or otherwise taken inside the body (as through a cut in the skin), they have the power to tear through cells in organs or blood, releasing their energy to surrounding tissue and leaving extensive damage in their wake. A single track of a single alpha particle can deliver a large dose of radiation to a cell. Plutonium is an alpha emitter. Other alpha emitters include radon gas, uranium, and americium.

Beta particles are electrons. They are a fraction of the size of alpha particles, can travel farther and are more penetrating. Betas pose a risk both outside and inside the body, depending on their energy level. External exposure can result in beta penetration through the surface to the most sensitive layers of skin. Inhalation or ingestion of a beta-emitting radionuclide poses the greatest risk. Externally, a half-inch of Plexiglas or water shielding can generally stop a beta. Strontium-90 and tritium are two beta-emitting radionuclides routinely released from nuclear power reactors during normal operation. Our bodies often mistake strontium-90 for calcium, collecting it in our bones that make our new blood cells. Once there, it increases our risk of bone and blood cancers like leukemia. Every one of us has strontium-90 in our bodies as a result of nuclear bomb testing. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen, which binds where normal hydrogen does. Hydrogen is the most abundant element on the earth, and is a component of water, which cushions our genetic material (DNA). Tritium can bond in this water, irradiating our DNA at very close range.

Gamma rays are the most penetrating type of radiation and can be stopped only by thick lead blocking their path. Cesium-137 is a gamma emitter often released from nuclear reactors. It mimics potassium, collecting in muscle. Iodine-131and Iodine-129 are also gamma-emitters released through bomb testing and at atomic reactors. Radioactive iodines collect in the thyroid gland emitting both beta and gamma ionizing radiation to the surrounding tissue.

X-rays are much like gamma rays except they are most often generated electrically by a machine (rather than a radionuclide), usually for medical diagnostic procedures. X-rays also require lead shielding. When generated by medical equipment, their production does not create nuclear waste.


Different radionuclides have different half-lives. Half-life is the time it takes for one-half of a radioactive element to decay the next step toward stability. Some radionuclides decay to a stable element in a single step. For others, like uranium, the movement toward stability may be a long, complex process. Uranium-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, about the age of the Earth. All told, it has 17 decay steps before reaching a final, stable form of lead. Half-lives can range from fractions of seconds (Polonium-214, .00016 seconds), to days (Iodine-131, 8.04 days) to billions of years (Uranium-238, above). A radionuclide may also decay to another radioactive element that has a longer half-life and is more biologically active than the original radionuclide. For instance, xenon-135 (9-hour half-life) decays to cesium-135 with a half-life of 3 million years. Cesium mimics potassium and collects in muscle in the body. Xenon-135 is released regularly by nuclear reactors. Hazardous life is defined as 10-20 times the half-life. This is how long it will take for a given quantity of the radioactive element to decay to undetectable levels.

Some radioactive atoms give off more than one type of radiation. For instance radium, which humans collect and concentrate from an ore called pitchblende, gives off gamma and alpha radiation. Shortly after the Curies (research physicists in France) discovered radium, when its harmful effects were not known or believed, it was widely used, especially among the wealthy. Exposure to radium, ingested in water, painted on watch faces and carried in pockets, caused many debilitating illnesses and excruciating deaths. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia (leukemia) most likely caused from her exposure to radium through the extraction process she used to concentrate it. To this day, her notebooks are dangerously radioactive.


With man’s increased uses of radioactive material, more radionuclides have been and continue to be released to the environment. Once released, they can circulate through the biosphere, ending up in drinking water, vegetables, grass, meat, etc. The higher an animal eats on the food chain, the higher the concentration of radionuclides. This is bioaccumulation. The process of bioaccumulating radionuclides can be especially harmful to humans since many of us eat at the top of the food chain.


Ionizing radiation travels through our living tissue with much more energy than either natural chemical, or biological functions. This extra energy tears mercilessly at the very fabric of what makes us recognizably human—our genetic material. Elderly and people with immune disorders are more susceptible to ionizing radiation. Children and the unborn are especially susceptible because of their rapid and abundant cell division during growth.

Cancers linked to ionizing radiation exposure include most blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma), lung cancer, and many solid tumors of various organs. Birth defects can include downs syndrome, cleft palate or lip, congenital malformations, spinal defects, kidney, liver damage and more.

Evidence exists that radiation is permanently and unpredictably mutating the gene pool and contributing to its gradual weakening. The New Scientist quotes a report that calls genetic or chromosomal instabilities caused by radiation exposure a "plausible mechanism" for explaining illnesses other than cancer, including "developmental deficiencies in the fetus, hereditary disease, accelerated aging and such non-specific effects as loss of immune competence."

A living being’s genetic material is the library that houses the instructions for many important aspects of that being and his/her offspring, including the ability to defend against diseases. If we allow ionizing radiation to tamper with our genes, it could cause irreversible damage, not just to this generation through cancer, but to future generations through gene mutations and ensuing disease.

Prepared 8/99 by Cindy Folkers, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, 1424 16th Street, NW, #404, Washington, DC 20036. Phone: 202-328-0002. Fax: 202-462-2183. E-mail: nirsnet@nirs.org. Web: www.nirs.org

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Radiation Protection Video Presentations

Radiation Protection Video Presentations

The sites contingency based RPS radiation safety training courses for the Fire, Police and other interested parties offer a cost effective solution for dealing with CBRN (Radiological & Nuclear) and HAZMAT events.

Very helpful site in understanding radiation doses, protect

absorbed dose rate Japan (stations list)

WOWeather.com has compiled a full absorbed dose rate in Japan. Very helpful.

absorbed dose rate Japan (stations list)