In case of nuclear meltdown, pop a pill

In case of nuclear meltdown, pop a pill


By Rob Edwards AMERICA’S nuclear regulatory body has gone against the advice of its own scientists and recommended that state authorities distribute iodine tablets to protect people from radiation damage in the event of a nuclear accident. Tablets of potassium iodide can help to prevent cancer of the thyroid. When radioactive iodine escapes into the atmosphere, it is absorbed by the thyroid gland. Stable iodine, such as potassium iodide, can saturate the thyroid and prevent it from absorbing the radioactive isotope. Since the Chernobyl incident in 1986, which caused some 800 cases of thyroid cancer, several European countries have arranged to distribute tablets. The US government had resisted this approach on the advice of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), whose scientists have always argued that evacuation and control of foodstuffs provide better protection. Last month, however, the NRC’s governing commissioners voted three to one against the advice of the scientists and upheld a petition by a senior lawyer employed by the commission. Peter Crane, who has suffered from thyroid cancer, claims the NRC’s scientists gave the commissioners inaccurate information about iodine. For instance, he says they misrepresented the views of the US Federal Emergency Management Committee, which favours the use of tablets—something for which NRC staff have apologised. Crane told a conference on thyroid cancer at the University of Cambridge two weeks ago that the NRC’s scientists were too susceptible to pressure from the American nuclear industry. The industry opposes the use of tablets because it fears that allowing their distribution in preparation for an accident would create unnecessary public concern. Tim Martin, a director at the NRC,
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