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Mary Shomon

Japanese Nuclear Disaster Raises U.S. Interest in Potassium Iodide for Thyroid Protection

By March 14, 2011

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In the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, a great deal of attention was paid to the safety of America's nuclear plants, and their potential as terrorist targets. Of particular concern was the availability of potassium iodide, which when given as a supplement in the hours after an unintended nuclear exposure, can protect the thyroid gland from excessive exposure to radioactive iodine. At that time, there was a great deal of controversy over the costs, health benefits and public relations impact of stockpiling potassium iodide so that it would be readily available in an emergency. Nuclear proponents opposed the move, claiming that stockpiling caused unnecessary fear of nuclear energy.

Experts point to the dramatically different rates of thyroid cancer and thyroid disease in areas downwind of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Areas where potassium iodide was rapidly distributed had a minimal thyroid impact, while areas like Russia and the Ukraine, where there was no potassium iodide distribution, saw dramatic increases in thyroid cancer and thyroid disease.

Children -- including unborn children -- are at the greatest risk of thyroid damage from unintended exposure to radioactive iodine, which if often found in releases of radioactive materials from nuclear reactors.

Now, in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan, several Japanese reactors were severely damaged, and may be at risk of partial or complete meltdown.

Experts on nuclear energy who were consulted by ABC News have suggested that if one of the reactors has a full meltdown with explosion - such as happened at Chernobyl -- the fallout would typically travel 20 to 50 miles downwind, but could pose a radiation risk to many cities and regions of Japan. There is a small risk that in a meltdown, along with fire or explosions, could send radiation into the upper atmosphere, where it could reach the United States at levels that would not be lethal, but could increase longer-term exposure risk, including to the thyroid.

New reports suggest that Japanese authorities have instituted distribution of potassium iodide to some affected areas.

Meanwhile, those who live in Alaska, and the west coast of Canada and the western U.S. may want to familiarize themselves with use of potassium iodide for thyroid protection, not only in light of the Japanese situation, but also given the prevalence of nuclear reactors in earthquake zones. (Take a look at these maps that show U.S. nuclear reactors, along with earthquake zones.

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Comments
March 15, 2011 at 10:26 am
(1) J!LL says:

David Brownstein, in his book “Iodine”, says that the Japanese get between 50,000-70,000mg (miligrams) of iodine/day in their diet (seaweed and fish), while our RDA says we need about 150 mcg (micrograms). I have Hashimotos, and take 12 mg/day of iodine. Japanese have no thyroid, prostate or breast cancer issues.

March 15, 2011 at 11:59 am
(2) mister Wi says:

I doubt that anybody eats 50-70 grams if iodine a day. Please check your numbers

March 17, 2011 at 5:11 am
(3) Winsordawson says:

They do not have to worry about these cancers because they would be dead. The UL is 1.1 mg; RDA is 150 mcg for adults. Anyone taking 70,000 mg a day would have “significant problems.” The study you mention has certain Japanese consuming up to 50,000-70,000 mcg per day (50-70 mg). Not 50-70 grams! Individuals who follow such a diet have a higher risk for thyroid papillary cancer and a lower risk for thyroid follicular cancer. This reverses in a deficiency. It’s best to stick to the RDA unless there is a medical condition.

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