Iodine tablet : protecting yourself from the radiation of a nuclear explosion

Chloé M | 14 March 2022
Reading time : about 4 minutes
Iodine tablet :  protecting yourself from the radiation of a nuclear explosion

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    The strategy for protection against nuclear risk

    The current context and the risk of a nuclear war has become a major concern. The radioactive cloud following the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is on everyone's mind. But nuclear safety has been an integral part of our society for several decades with nuclear power plants.

    Here are the different steps of the strategy to protect the population :

    • In the immediate areas at risk of radioactive releases : a campaign to distribute iodine (potassium iodide) is conducted to limit the radiological risk;
    • in case of an alert, take shelter to protect yourself from the explosion and the deflagration (about ten kilometers around the epicenter of the atomic explosion);
    • Stay connected to keep up to date (limit telephone communications);
    • Take iodine as soon as the authorities give instructions to limit contamination and irradiation;
    • prepare for a possible evacuation.

    What is the main danger of a nuclear accident ?

    The main danger of a nuclear explosion is the risk of being killed by the shock wave and the deflagration of the explosion (concentric zone closest to the explosion).

    What are the dangers of radiation ?

    • The main danger of radioactivity is linked to the fallout of radioactive particles which are responsible for different consequences depending on the dose of radiation absorbed (skin burns, loss of nails and hair, cessation of organ function, death in excruciating pain within a few days, etc.);
    • The subsequent danger of radiation is the absence of appropriate protective measures and exposure to radioactive iodine which can be responsible for the appearance of thyroid cancer. Radioactive iodine is found in the atmosphere and the environment (water, air, soil, animals that will be consumed by humans, plants and trees, ...). This iodine will eventually enter the human thyroid, but the fixation can be prevented by taking iodine (potassium iodide) at the right time, just before exposure to radioactive iodine from the atmosphere and the environment.

    What is iodine (potassium iodide) ?

    Iodine, also known as potassium iodide (KI), comes in a 65 milligram solid tablet that can be cut into 4 equal parts. Iodine therapy is usually reserved for autoimmune disease and thyroid metabolic disorders.

    Why take iodine tablets (potassium iodide) ?

    Taking potassium iodide tablets saturates the thyroid gland with stable iodine and thus prevents the fixation and penetration of radioactive iodine following a nuclear disaster. The objective is to limit the appearance of thyroid cancer several years or even decades after exposure.

    When should I take iodine tablets to protect myself ?

    Iodine should not be taken without instruction from the authorities. In general, iodine should be taken at one time, 1 or 2 hours before exposure to radiation. The later the iodine is administered, the greater the loss of effectiveness. Thus, the earlier this measure is implemented, the more important it is.

    What dosage of iodine should I take ?

    The dosage of iodine to take to protect against radiation depends on age. You should take :

    • 16 milligrams for infants under 1 month of age;
    • 32 milligrams for children under 3 years old;
    • 65 milligrams for children under 12 years of age;
    • 130 milligrams for children and adults over 12 years of age.

    The adult dose is then 2 tablets of 65 milligrams.

    The dose is a one-time dose, i.e., no further doses are required. The radiation protection and the half-life of iodine are sufficient. Repeating the ingestion of iodine is useless and may be responsible for adverse effects (thyroid damage).

    Which populations are most vulnerable to radiation ?

    The risk of thyroid cancer is limited in populations over 20 years old.

    Therefore, iodine intake should be a priority for :

    • children, they have a developing body and a smaller thyroid that easily accumulates radioactive iodine;
    • Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as radioactive iodine passes through the placenta and into breast milk.

    These at-risk populations may be given another dose of iodine 7 days after the first dose to improve thyroid protection.

    What are the contraindications to taking iodine pellets ?

    With the exception of rare immune system diseases, there are no contraindications to taking iodine to protect the thyroid in the context of nuclear exposure.

    Does taking iodine pellets require special medical supervision ?

    Taking iodine requires medical attention for :

    • pregnant women exposed beyond 12 weeks of gestation;
    • infants under 12 months of age;
    • nursing mothers,
    • people with a history of goiter or thyroid pathology (hyperthyroidism also called Graves' disease or hypothyroidism).
    Published on 14 March 2022 at 15:03
    Updated on 11 February 2023 at 00:03

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    Chloé M

    Chloé M

    Web Editor

    As a journalist, I wish to bring you a concrete solution to the health problems encountered in everyday life. My father is a passionate naturopath who has immersed me in his world since I was very young.