March 23, 2021
by Andrew Kishner
Residents living near nuclear power plants are often accustomed to hearing about iodine-131 as the potential hazard from nuclear accidents. Globally, nuclear utility companies, by law or by precedent, will sometimes distribute iodine tablets to local residents to be taken upon news of an accidental reactor release. The natural, inert iodine floods the thyroid, effectively blocking iodine-131 from pooling there instead. A variety of miscommunications and myths accompany this ‘iodine tablet’ phenomenon.
First, the iodine pills, like all pills, lose their potency over time; they need to be replaced, not stored, over the years. Second, the tablet needs to be taken as soon as possible; taking it after you inhale or ingest harmful amounts of the invisible contamination won’t help. Third, the pills don’t prevent the iodine-131 from reaching other organs or from pumping out penetrating gamma rays that will increase your ‘whole body [radiation] dose.’
Fourth, the iodine tablet will do absolutely nothing to prevent the absorption, uptake, or bioaccumulation into your other organs of the other 98% of the fallout, whose components are just as hazardous as iodine-131. Nuclear utilities don’t like to emphasize this fact, just as federal health agencies don’t like to talk about or study the other 98% in the fallout.
Other human organs, like the bone, liver, and brain, accumulate other components of fallout sometimes just as effectively as iodine-131 pools in the thyroid, and with just as deadly serious outcomes. Strontium-89 (short-lived) and strontium-90 (long-lived) accumulate in the teeth and skeleton; increased burdens of these ‘sister isotopes’ are linked to bone cancer and leukemia.
In fact, when it comes to either iodine-131 or the other 98% of the fallout, the health outcomes of taking any medicine for blocking uptake is a risky proposition according to the late radiobiologist Dr. John Gofman, who wrote:
“You will find stuff about iodide to prevent thyroid cancer and sea-weed kelp to prevent uptake of strontium-90. You’d better find out whether the harm of taking these materials may not be greater than the benefits hoped for. Besides, they are terribly ineffectual at best, even if they were not harmful.”
Gofman said this on June 11, 1979, in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania:
“...let me say that I think it is a wild goose chase to look for things people can do either before or after radiation to try to protect themselves. The sooner they get over the idea that there is any therapy or prevention, the sooner they will come to the realization that the only solution is to get rid of the source of the radiation.”
Author’s note: Agreed. Get rid of them; shut the reactors down.
Startling Revelations about Three Mile Island Disaster Raise Doubts Over Nuke Safety