Potassium Iodide As Protection Against Japanese Radiation?
UPDATE 3/30/2011: My potassium iodide arrived yesterday, but I never
even thought about taking it because 1) I have heard no plausible source saying that levels
here on the west side of the U.S. are high enough for KI supplementation and 2) there are
risks to the thyroid in taking KI. However, the EPA made me nervous with a very suspicious
announcement. For "some reason", they decided to up (by over a 1000 times) the allowable levels
of various radioactive isotopes in drinking water supplies!  How plausible
is that a few weeks
after the worst radioactive disaster in history?
The EPA, in its nearly infinite wisdom, has decided to "nearly 1000-fold increase
for exposure to strontium-90, a 3000 to 100,000-fold hike for exposure to
iodine-131; and an almost 25,000 rise for exposure to radioactive nickel-63."
 What a little strontium-90 among friends?", I always say. NOTE: This reference is from Berkeley's Department of Nuclear
OOf course, the net is full of the C words: "coverup", "collusion" and
"conspiracy". I don't know if I'd go that far, but it does make me wonder
if I should be breaking open that bottle of KI to protect my kids...
UPDATE 3/16/2011E 3/16/2011: The good news is that the winds have not yet
headed directly into Tokyo, where radiation levels have increased slightly but
Unfortunately, there are cracks in containment vessels 2 and 3 and radiation
levels are high enough at the plant that all workers will soon be removed,
meaning no more sea water will even be pumped in. It appears we are headed into an uncontrolled situation which could lead to
an explosion within the containment vessels. If this occurs, we could
easily have a situation worse than
UPDATE 3/16/2011 (Part 2): Potassium iodide has now sold out
of all locations in surrounding states such as Arizona, etc. The experts
that I have seen have so far stated that all purchases of potassium iodide in
the U.S. are a waste of money as we will not see a significant rise in radiation
here. Have they taken into account what would happen, though, if two of
the plants in Japan had explosions and open containment vessels? Time will
As of this writing (3/15/2011), radiation levels are rising in Japan and
officials are concerned that tonight or tomorrow significant radiation could
blow into Tokyo, exposing its citizens to approximately to 10-20 times
normal radiation levels. The problem actually began yesterday with several
hydrogen explosions at the Fukuyama plant, leaving a nuclear storage pond on
fire. The ensuing steam began leaking small amounts of radiation into the
atmosphere at levels detectable on U.S. naval ships and helicopters 60 miles
Of course, our hearts go out to the Japanese people primarily, but I want to
bring up a potentially important question for those of us in the western United
States: is it time to purchase some potassium iodide tablets? The reason
that it may be time to contemplate this for some of us is that there are reports
that potassium iodide supplies are already running out along the western coastal
states of California, Washington and Oregon. 
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Now imagine the following very possible scenario: one or more of the
cores melt at Fukuyama and winds pull the radiation over the ocean and into the
United States. If this were to occur, the radiation would hit our coast in
6-12 days. As radiation levels rise, it is possible that purchases and/or
shipping of potassium iodide would become backlogged and hard to obtain?
CAUTION: Health officials are warning not to take potassium iodide
unless you are actually exposed to radition. It can potentially
affect the thyroid negatively and, therefore, should only be taken if absolutely necessary.
I don't know the answer to that but am personally not taking any chances.
Potassium iodide is inexpensive and easy to manufacture, but how could
supplement manufacturers possibly have conceived of or anticipated this kind of
Keep in mind, though, that this is unlikely to be of the magnitude of Chernobyl.
Chernobyl had no real containment vessel and, of course, that is not the case in
Fukuyama. Chernobyl was so powerful that it resulted in thousands of new cases
of thyroid cancer in surrounding areas.  Of particular importance to
those with families is that children and youth exposed to elevated radiation
levels in the Ukraine, the country where Chernobyl occurred, were at much higher
risks of thyroid cancers.  Researchers noted that contamination
occurred from consumption of milk and other products that had absorbed
NOTE: The thyroid is particularly vulnerable to radition and absorbs
about a thousand times the levels of other body tissues. Potassium iodide
actually only protects - and it is not perfect protection - the thyroid and not
other parts of the body.
So how many much cancer did Chernobyl cause in farther away areas such as Western
Europe and Scandanavia? This is difficult to determine with any precision
and conclusions are controversial. However, WHO estimated that "up to
5 000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation
exposure, or about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to
other causes."  This is not a large increase but is, of course, a
definite cause for concern.
In addition, fallout radiation from Hiroshima was known to increase certain kinds
of leukemia. One study from Sweden was particularly sobering as well, as
it found that some Swedish residents experienced a net increase in total cancer
deaths following Chernobyl.  Some parts of Sweden got hit fairly hard with
radioactive fallout due to rains that brought the toxins down into populated
Again, radiation levels are unlikely to be as high in the United States due to
efforts to avoid a meltdown, containment structures and the distances involved.
However, to play it safe, I've got my potassium iodide on order just in case...