By Frank Moher
I travelled to a local health food store on Monday and bought some kelp tablets. I was actually after potassium iodide, but they were already sold out.
I am not naturally a health food store habitué — as I write this, I’m finishing up a Teen Burger meal — but my visit fell under the better-safe-than-sorry proviso for dealing with massive disasters such as the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster. I live on the western edge of North America, and the jet stream, she’s a-comin’ this way, Pa, she’s a-comin’.
Of course, my concerns are nothing as compared with those of the people of Japan. Nothing. And, of course, local Experts assure me that I have nothing to worry about: by the time those radiation particles reach me, they will be so widely dispersed as to be no more dangerous than pollen on a Spring day.
Thank you, Experts. I suppose I believe you.
However, I am not at all sure it’s a good thing for the BC government to discourage pharmacies from bringing in new quantities of potassium iodide. I understand that too much of the stuff isn’t good, especially if your thyroid’s already messed up, but this might be an instance where government would be best off letting us think we have some control over our well-being, and that of our family.
And besides, their assurances are distinctly equivocal. “I don’t think there is any rationale or reason for stockpiling potassium iodide,” says BC chief medical officer Dr. Perry Kendall, before adding the fine print: “at this point in time.”
Says “intercontinental pollutant transport expert” Ian McKendry: “The risk is relatively low, barring some kind of further disastrous situation occurring with these reactors.” All righty then: we’ll assume there’ll be no more disastrous situations beyond the four or five that have already occurred.
Meantime, Dr. Helen Caldicott is less sanguine. “The second reactor that’s just had an explosion,” she told flashpoints.net on Monday, “for some reason was fueled with MOX fuel, which is mixed oxide fuel, containing plutonium as well as uranium . . . . I don’t know if the containment vessel was breached or not, but if that plutonium gets out into the air, it will circulate from west to east around the globe, the northern hemisphere. Plutonium is so toxic that a million of a gram or less will induce cancer of the lung, or the liver, or the bone, or the blood, or the testicle. It does tend to have a predilection for testicles, and thus it will damage the genes and the sperm for all future generations.”
As of this morning, the situation at that reactor, Fukushima Daiichi #3, is unclear, though a spike in radiation levels has forced a temporary evacuation of emergency workers and “the operator fears that there has been damage to the suppression chamber.” That would be the “containment vessel” Caldicott referred to.
So forgive me, Experts, but I think I’ll hang onto my kelp tablets for now. Apparently, I would have to ingest a bottle a day before they’d do any good, and neither they nor potassium iodide will provide any protection at all against plutonium radiation.
Nevertheless, they might make me feel a little better.
Updated March 16, 2011, 9:24 pm
NPR reports that “although plutonium is a long-lived emitter of radiation, it is also quite heavy, so it is not likely to move very far downwind from its source.”
And the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (an anti-nuclear power group) notes that “radionuclides [such as plutonium] are generally present in much larger quantities in spent fuel pools than in the reactor itself” and that “no mixed oxide (MOX) spent fuel is in the Unit 3 spent fuel pool.”
A “spent fuel pool” is for rods that have been put out to pasture but nevertheless retain the capacity to heat up and melt down, thus emitting radiation. However, the Japanese plant only started using mixed oxide fuel last September. In other words, it hasn’t yet moved MOX rods to storage, where they would be more dangerous.
In other other words, all things considered, the threat to North America remains minimal. The threat to Japan has increased, although not as much as one might have feared.
Jonathon Jones says
I’m living in Sendai-city, and was witness to the whole quake event. But not the tsunami, I didn’t even know about it until a day later. And the nuclear reactor incident didn’t even start worrying me until other people started worrying, mainly my family who had been watching the North American news.
The first form of Canadian aid I received, was a phone call from Ottawa telling me about the American’s assessment of the 80km perimeter evac zone and that the government of Canada agreed with it and that I should consider leaving. The Japanese evacuation zone has always remained at 20km and the outdoor travel ban at 30km. All sorts of quasi-scientific and near conspiracy theory like reports have been going around as to why the two governments differ on their containment policies and why the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Company may not have been feeding it’s citizens enough information.
My theory as to why the government and media didn’t cover the nuclear crisis as much and why people over here haven’t been as worried is because nobody has had time to be worried about it. Minor radioactive contamination was, and still is, number three or four on the list of priorities for the rescue effort. The earthquake has damaged every single service in north Japan, and some people still don’t have water, electricity, or gas or all three. Several towns were wiped out in a tsunami with the death toll likely to surpass 20,000 and now there is a gas and food shortage hindering the rescue effort. People just don’t have time to worry about a 0.5% increased risk of thyroid cancer.
I like CBC’s Bob McDonald’s review of the ‘crisis.’ At least another Three Mile Island incident, but definitely not another Chernobyl. I am just outside of the 80km evac zone, Sendai is about 100km away. I don’t have any plans to take any iodine pills or kelp tablets because I don’t know what they are and what they’re supposed to do. I also don’t plan to be drinking any milk or eating any vegetables from the farms near the nuclear plant anytime soon.
Radiation Network – an interactive map depicting local radiation levels uploaded in real time.
Fyoder Larue says
Bob McDonald on the CBC says there’s no cause for alarm, as the radiation will diminish by kilometre, and there’s a lot of kilometres between Vancouver and Japan. And if you can’t trust the CBC, my goodness, who can you trust? Of course, it’s possible he wasn’t taking into account the plutonium.
Given that authority seems to have a history of giving false assurance in the face of environmental disaster until it’s too late (in the case of 9/11, not admitting toxicity of the environment for quite a long time), if I was on the west coast, I’d be doing the same thing. Might do so anyway.
One can hope for the best, but it’s pretty clear that you can’t trust authority. It was only a few days ago that the IAEA was reassuring us that the Japan reactors only rate a 4 on a 7 point exponential scale with Three Mile Island being a 5 and Chernobyl a 7. Last night on the news they said it was now between Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Tomorrow? Well, it’s now “unlikely” to be as bad as Chernobyl
How reassuring. Pass the iodine pills.