After Russia put nuclear weapons on high alert, some people started stocking up on iodine, but experts say the pills are “essentially useless” in the event of an attack.
In late February, just days after ordering the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nuclear forces to be placed on high alert.
This alarmed governments and people around the world, but especially the citizens of Central Europe forced to face the idea of a Russian nuclear attack on their continent.
Shortly after Putin’s announcement, there was reports people across Europe stock up on iodine tablets, which are sometimes given to people near nuclear accidents. But a few experts on social media said the pills did not protect people from most of the effects of a nuclear attack.
Can iodine pills protect you from most radiation effects in a nuclear attack?
No, iodine pills will not protect you from most radiation effects in a nuclear attack.
WHAT WE FOUND
Over-the-counter iodine pills, which contain the chemical compound potassium iodide, are proved useful in the prevention of thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine, especially in children.
It has been shown to be useful in the prevention of thyroid cancer caused by radioactive iodine, especially in children. It basically works by loading your thyroid with healthy, normal iodine so there’s no room for the radioactive release.
“In the first phase of a typical nuclear accident, like…a meltdown [at a power plant]…there is efficiency in delivering potassium iodide [to] the local surrounding area to minimize the amount of iodine absorbed by the thyroid gland,” said Jerrold Bushberg, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurement.
After a meltdown, exposure to radioactive iodine can vary depending on a number of factors, including the nature and scale of the accident, the surrounding terrain, wind speed and direction, and structures. physical. Governments can consider these factors when determining to whom to recommend or distribute iodine tablets.
But iodine delivery is only a minor part of the answer. A World Health Organization documentfor example, asserts that the evacuation, sheltering, and removal of contaminated crops or livestock from the food supply can be more widely effective.
“It should be noted that while other countermeasures protect against most radionuclides and external exposure, iodine prophylaxis only protects against inhaled or ingested radioactive iodine,” the guide says.
This is because iodine pills does not prevent your body from absorbing other radioactive chemicals besides iodine.
This is also why the pills are not useful in the event of a nuclear attack. A nuclear bomb quickly spreads far more radioactive chemicals than iodine, such as cesium and cobalt. It can even make non-radioactive elements radioactive during the explosion.
People in relatively close proximity to the explosion would likely be killed by the physical violence and heat of the explosion.
Those farther away who aren’t killed right away would face such high levels of radiation “you don’t even want to send an emergency medical team[s, risking their safety]…because the people there … if they’re not dead, they’re going to be dead” in a few days, Bushberg said.
Some distance from the blast, Bushberg says lives can be saved, but the priority is treating injuries and removing contaminated clothing to reduce exposure to a wide variety of radioactive materials.
So in the scheme of a nuclear attack, iodine won’t do much.
“I think that would be the least of your worries,” Bushberg said, adding that it might be comforting “from a psychological standpoint, but I wouldn’t want to [people] thinking it was a panacea” and ignoring the threat of radiation as a result of taking the pill.
“They should always take the most positive steps to get away from the site of the detonation,” he said.
Head of the Czech Nuclear Safety Office called iodine “essentially useless” in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control, responding to reports of panic buying, tweeted to discourage Europeans from taking iodine, which can have side effects if taken unnecessarily. BelgianCzech and American authorities all say to take iodine only if local or state public health or emergency response agencies specifically advise you to do so.
The government site associated with FEMA Ready.gov lists emergency preparedness protocols in the event of an emergency nuclear attack or the collapse of a nuclear plant. Neither protocol includes taking iodine tablets.
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