Arguments Against Stockpiling KI – Rebutted

Cape Downwinders Cooperative KI Index

With so many potent arguments for stockpiling KI, the obvious question – what are the arguments against it? Let’s go through them.

Big accidents can’t happen, at least here.

That’s wishful thinking. The recent accident in Japan, which has topflight nuclear technology and a strong safety culture, argues against complacency. Human error must always be reckoned with.

Evacuation is preferable.

Certainly it is preferable, if it is feasible, but often it is not feasible, because of weather, traffic or wind patterns. Evacuations only work perfectly on paper. During Hurricane Floyd, it took some drivers 8 hours to go 35 miles. Besides, KI and evacuation are not an either/or proposition. Depending on the circumstances, people may wish to take KI before, during or after they evacuate. Likewise, KI gives additional protection to people who are forced to shelter. KI is an extra arrow in the quiver!

KI protects just one organ, the thyroid.

True, but it is the most radiation-sensitive organ in the body.

KI will create a false sense of security.

This theory holds that if a nuclear accident or act of terrorism occurs, the sirens are blaring, TV and radio are telling people to evacuate, people will stay put instead, believing that KI will give them complete protection. Can anyone seriously believe that this would really happen? Experience tells us that in emergencies, people follow the instructions of authorities. If this is not so, then the value of all emergency planning is placed in doubt. We are smarter.

It is more cost-effective to treat thyroid cancer/disease than prevent it.

Bizarre and cruel as it sounds, this cost-benefit theory underlies existing US policy on KI which was put in place in 1985, before Chernobyl, and has yet to be changed.

We don’t need KI, because radiation-induced thyroid cancer/disease is not that serious.

Thyroid cancer kills over a thousand Americans each year. For many more, it has major life impacts, including surgery, radiation treatment, and a lifetime on medication. Radiation damage to the child’s thyroid can also cause mental retardation, brought about by hypothyroidism. We do not believe protecting the health of the nuclear industry is more important than protecting the public’s health.

KI poses a high risk of side effects.

Not true. KI was found “safe and effective” by the Food and Drug Administration in 1978, again in 2001, and approved for over-the-counter use soon after. It is the same chemical used in iodized salt. Poland gave out 18 million doses after Chernobyl with negligible side effects. Two people were hospitalized briefly; both had known iodine allergies. Two neonates experienced transient hypothyroidism, not requiring treatment. You may read the details in the May 1993 article by Drs. Nauman and Wolff in the American Journal of Medicine, page 524. Potassium Iodide is an ingredient in many cough syrups and expectorants. The incidence of adverse reactions to KI in doses used for nuclear accidents is as low as 1 in 10 million ≠ with often no more than a skin rash. It is safe and effective.

Cape Downwinders Cooperative KI Index

Radioactive iodine is unlikely to be released in large quantities.

This argument is based on faulty risk assessments on the integrity of reactor barriers and inaccurate data from the Three Mile Island accident.

  • Three Mile Island: The monitors were blown during the accident. Therefore, nobody knows exactly how much radioiodine was released. Industry and regulators have had a “vested interest” in downplaying estimates.
  • Even if their estimates were correct concerning TMI, it is irrelevant. TMI did not provide a “fixed rule” on how much radiation would be released in another nuclear plant at another time.
  • Spent fuel pool inventory omitted in calculations: Accident source term can not simply refer to a reactor accident, it must include radioisotopes released from an accident in the spent fuel pool. For example, Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool is inside the containment building but outside primary containment. It is overcrowded. It holds nearly 3000 spent fuel rods; but it was designed to hold 870. This makes it more likely that an accident in either the reactor or the spent fuel pool will ultimately lead to release from both places. The NRC 1997 report,” A Safety and Regulatory Assessment of Generic BWR and PWR Permanently Shutdown Plants”, prepared by Brookhaven provided the potential consequences from a spent fuel pool accident at a plant like Pilgrim. Brookhaven reported exposures ranging from 3 million to 327 million person-rems.
  • Pilgrim installed the Torus Vent. It allows workers to release pressure that may be building up in the reactor during a pre-accident situation, in order to save containment. However, the Torus Vent installed will release radionuclides directly into the air, into our communities, instead of venting into a bed of charcoal filters deep underground.
  • Responsible emergency planning prepares for the worst possible disaster. The maximum conceivable release of radioiodine is what should be assumed in our disaster preparedness program.

Implementing the policy would be too difficult.

We know that this is not true. The Town of Duxbury, Massachusetts, four US states and many nations around the world have already implemented such a policy. Certainly if they can do it, we can too.

It is too expensive; we can not afford it.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced, December 2000 that they would reimburse states that choose to stockpile. Any additional implementing costs will be paid by the industry – just as all other emergency planning costs. KI is cheap. Each pill costs less than 20 cents. Its shelf life is more than 5 years. We can afford it. Our kids are worth it.

We don’t need local stockpiles, because regional stockpiles can meet the need.

KI is time sensitive. It must be taken before or shortly after exposure to be an effective block. Taken during the first 3-4 hours after exposure, KI is only 50% effective as a blocking agent. There is no protection if KI is taken (6) or more hours after exposure. The bottom line- if KI is in schools your kids will be protected. They will not get it in time if it has to be transported from some regional stockpile, by jet or otherwise. The current Director of FEMA said as much in April 1999

There may be liability.

This is a bogeyman to scare people ≠ all the people who supposedly will be harmed by side effects of KI and will then sue. This is far-fetched.

  • We know side effects are minimal from the Polish data and FDA.
  • What court or jury would hold a town liable for doing what it could, in a radiological emergency, to prevent thyroid cancer by giving an over-the-counter medicine approved by FDA?
  • We would not administer KI until being advised by the state that it was appropriate to do so.
  • Parents would be required to authorize the school to administer KI to their children beforehand, just as they now do for other over-the-counter medications.

Stockpiling may cause the public to loose confidence in nuclear technology.

This fear is the real reason that the federal and state governments have not acted to require KI for the public. It is not a valid basis for governmental decisions affecting public health. France and Japan are the most pro-nuclear countries. They stockpile – so should we. The issue is public health.

Cape Downwinders Cooperative KI Index

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