Anti-radiation pills useless after the fact

by Dr. Gordon Edwards

• An article posted on CBC news on October 11 ( stated that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has published a new regulation requiring nuclear operators to pre-distribute potassium iodide pills to people and businesses in close proximity to nuclear power plants, such as the one in Chalk River, Ontario. In the article below, Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, refutes the efficacy of these pills when administered after a nuclear event.

Despite the headline in a CBCnews post on October 11 – “Nuclear plants must give anti-radiation pills to nearby residents” – there is no such thing as an “anti-radiation” pill. Radiation damage cannot be undone by taking a pill. In fact, there is no way of undoing radiation damage except by removing the damaged cells.

However, if non-radioactive iodine pills are taken before the body is exposed to radioactive iodine, the body’s thyroid gland will readily absorb the non-radioactive iodine and satisfy its “hunger” for iodine. Thus, when the radioactive iodine enters the body, it will not be absorbed by the thyroid gland – or at least not to the same degree – and the radioactive iodine will be excreted without taking up residence in the body.

This is important because radioactive iodine can damage the thyroid gland and cause a number of health problems, especially in infants and children. Following the Chernobyl accident, the World Health Organization has reported that about 6,000 children in Belarus had to have their thyroid glands surgically removed because of radiation damage caused by the body’s absorption of radioactive iodine.

If non-radioactive iodine pills are taken after the radioactive iodine has been absorbed, it’s too late for them to do much good. They have to be taken ahead of time – but not too much ahead of time. People have to know how and when to take these iodine pills in case of a nuclear accident and that means they have to know when the radioactive iodine is going to be given off into the atmosphere by the crippled reactor.

Although iodine is given off as a vapour, it rapidly deposits on the ground in a solid form and is absorbed into various foodstuffs such as cow’s milk and leafy plants, especially seaweed. The potential hazard from ingesting iodine-131 lasts for several weeks following a nuclear accident, so dietary restrictions are advisable.

In addition to radioactive iodine, there are dozens of other radioactive materials given off in the event of a nuclear accident (see , pages 3-6). Iodine pills offer no protection against these other radioactive materials, some of which concentrate in the bones, the soft organs, the blood or the lungs. Nevertheless, iodine pills do help to protect people’s thyroid glands if taken at the right time. This is particularly important in the case of infants and children, and – of course – for pregnant women.

Dr. Gordon Edwards is the president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR),

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