Monday, October 13, 2014

A Common Sense Approach to PANIC

Back on March 11, 2011, I became, for a moment, the information bank for a miniscule effort to inform people in China what they should do to protect themselves in the wake of the earthquake- and tsunami-fueled disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

A friend of mine was in China, working to establish contacts in the alternative fuels industry, when the accident occurred. A lot of people there, both Chinese and expatriates, were concerned about the possibility of radiation poisoning due to the accident. He knew I worked at a nuclear research site and reached out to me for a little advice.

My advice, based on then five years’ worth of experience working at the Idaho National Laboratory?

Eat seaweed.

Seaweed is rich in iodine. The most acute health risks from a nuclear accident is radioactive iodine – so the idea of consuming iodine-rich food was meant to fill thyroid glands with non-radioactive iodine so the body had less of a chance picking up the radioactive variety.

Was there any real danger in China? Minimally from Fukushima, though who knows what industrial pollutants they’ve got in their air due to their reliance on coal. But the iodine idea isn’t far-fetched. Each bus we travel on to and from work at the national laboratory carries a supply of potassium iodide pills, meant to be taken in the event of a serious accident.

So to read today that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission wants potassium iodide pills distributed to businesses and residents within 8 to 16 kilometers of Canadian nuclear power plants didn’t surprise me.

Then again, it did.

Say nuclear power and then distribute magic pills to people who live near them, you’re going to incite a little bit of worry. Had this happened in the United States, there would have been panic and widespread brow-furrowing (with the exception of a few areas, including the town where I live, where we’ve lived with nuclear power, nuclear waste, nuclear what-have-you, for more than 65 years. We’re used to it.

Distributing the pills seems like a highly conservative approach to a highly unlikely situation – but an approach which is low-cost, low-impact, and scientifically-based.

These guys, I’m sure, would take their iodide pills without question, then go fishing in Lake Ontario to watch Darlington Point go up in a beautiful radioactive cloud.

No comments: