Civil Defense Perspectives March 2011 Volume 27, No. 3
At this time, the score is 18,000 to 0. The earthquake and tsunami have killed some 18,000, and radiation from the seriously damaged nuclear reactors has killed nobody. Half a million have lost their homes or livelihood, and millions are without water, heat, or electricity. World news, however, is focused on fear of radiation release, and reactors are being shut down in Germany, far away from a tsunami. A human chain of 60,000 protesters showed up in Stuttgart to protest nuclear energy.
RadStickers Sent to Japan
The Physicians for Civil Defense Project to equip American first responders with RadStickers (www.ki4u.com) is slowed for the moment because the U.S. government has bought up the inventory and is commandeering new production.
Perhaps you kept the free sticker distributed with the January 2010 issue; once the Japanese crisis is over, you should be able to buy some again. Inventor Gordhan Patel reports that he is working with a large corporation to manufacturer millions.
“We got word from Japan that the Japanese government has banned sales of over-sensitive electronic detectors to the public to minimize the panic and worry,” he writes. “In an event of major radiological disaster, only SIRADs have the desired properties to minimize panic and worry, and triage medical treatment if needed.” The range is from 25–1,000 rads on the RadStickers and 2–1,000 rads on the credit-card-size RadTriage badge.
The front page of the Drudge Report noted that “radiation levels in Japan were rising”—and pictured a meter calibrated in microsieverts. A microsievert (µSv) is one-thousandth of a millisievert (mSv), and one-millionth of a sievert (Sv). One rad, the older unit used in civil defense work, roughly corresponds to 10 mSv, or 10,000 µSv. A dose of 100 rads (1 million µSv) is likely to cause acute radiation sickness, with nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, hair loss, ulcerations, and other symptoms. About half the people who are acutely exposed to 400 rads die.
The statement that any dose is harmful is based on the linear no-threshold hypothesis of radiation carcinogenesis (“Dose Hysteria,” DDP Newsletter, March 2010). This has caused great anxiety. “No matter what protective gear you have on,” said the leader of a Japanese rescue squad, “if you touch or inhale radioactive material, that means death” (WSJ 3/21/11).
Aside from a column by Ann Coulter, “A Glowing Report on Radiation” (Human Events 3/16/11), which attracted more than 1,700 comments, the press has largely ignored the prospect of radiation hormesis, the protective effect of low-dose radiation exposure. Yet the score, from accidental exposure due to cobalt-60 contaminated rebar in Taiwan apartments, is 5 cancer deaths and 3 birth defects in the exposed population to 186 cancer deaths and 46 birth defects predicted for a comparable unexposed population. The mean cumulative exposure was 600 mSv, or around 60 rads (www.jpands.org/vol9no1/chen.pdf).
What about Potassium Iodide (KI)?
Many suppliers are sold out of KI, and prices as high as $240 for 14 tablets have been reported. Some U.S. public health authorities warn against stockpiling KI lest foolish Americans take some they don’t need. Americans who are serious about preparing for the worst already have some KI.
According to Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson Kearny, a 130-mg dose of KI taken 1/2 hour to 1 day before ingesting radioactive iodine will reduce later thyroid absorption of the radioactive form to 1% of what it otherwise would have been. For long-term storage, Kearny recommends buying chemical grade KI, brown bottles with non-metallic caps, and droppers. To prepare a saturated solution, fill the bottle about 60% full of crystals, then add water until 90% full. Shake vigorously for 2 minutes. The presence of some crystals on the bottom shows that the solution is saturated. One drop contains 28 to 36 mg KI. The dose is 4 drops each 24 hrs; 2 drops for babies under 1 year old.
The half-life of dangerous radioactive iodine is about 8 days. In the case of a nuclear war lasting a week or two, a 100-day supply should be adequate. Those who have KI can resume a normal diet long before others; the most significant problem would be milk from cows consuming fallout-contaminated feed or water.
The Trans-Pacific fallout scenario, published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1970s, concerns the dangers from a large nuclear war in Asia using weapons of yield less than half a megaton. Larger weapons inject most radioactive material into the stratosphere, where it decays as it orbits the globe before falling to earth. Fallout from smaller weapons is mostly in the troposphere and is deposited while still highly radioactive. At lower altitudes, where most of the particles from the Chernobyl fires remained, scavenging mechanisms are much more effective.
Japan’s travails seem made to order for opponents of American nuclear energy and nuclear preparedness. The disaster “should slow the development of nuclear power,” said Ira Helfand of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “These reactors are inherently dangerous. They contain the equivalent of 1,000 nuclear bombs” (Globe and Mail 3/15/11). This implies that a nuclear power reactor could explode like a bomb, a physical impossibility. A “nuclear fallout map” predicting that “750 rads” would reach the intermountain U.S. within 10 days “went viral,” though fairly rapidly identified as a hoax. But people still worried about “millions” of predicted casualties in Japan.
Senator Lieberman called for a moratorium on U.S. nuclear power plants—as if we haven’t virtually had one since the Three Mile Island Accident killed nobody in 1979.
“Anyone who was around [for TMI] or for Chernobyl in 1986 will recognize the cycle,” writes J.R. Dunn, “first hysteria, then accusations, then more hysteria, then demands to return to the pre-modern era” (American Thinker 3/17/11).
What to Do
If you don’t have a copy of Nuclear War Survival Skills, down-load one now from www.oism.org/nwss, while you have electricity and an internet connection. It has instructions for making a Kearny Fallout Meter. Learn from Japan that if you don’t have a SIRAD, some KI, bottled water, and other essentials, you won’t be able to get them after the disaster.
More About Iodine
Rate of Adverse Reactions: From doses more than twice as large as the 130-mg prophylactic dose, adverse reactions were estimated at the extremely low rate of 1 per million to 1 per ten million doses (NWSS, p 112).
“Iodine Allergy”: According to the UCSF Dept. of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, iodine is an essential trace mineral, too simple to act as an antigen. What is commonly referred to as an “iodine allergy” is generally contrast-material sensitivity, seafood intolerance, or povidone (polyvinylpyrrolidone)-iodine dermatitis. Direct toxic effects of iodide overload (iodism) include salivary or lacrimal gland swelling, coryza, and skin rashes.
SSKI: A saturated solution of KI has been used orally as an expectorant and to treat skin conditions, including erythema nodosum. The maximum adult dose is listed as 2,600 mg. Drug-drug interactions include lithium, potassium-sparing diuretics, and angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, e.g. captopril.
Lugol’s Solution: First used in 1829, it consists of 5 g iodine (I2) and 10 g KI in 100 ml water. It is commonly used in aquariums. It has been used as a cellular stain, a drinking water decontaminant, and for various medical conditions. Because of its wide availability, it was used as a thyroid blocking agent after Chernobyl. The solution I bought for an aquarium contains 126 mg iodine/ml, or 63.2 mg/drop. Because it is being regulated as a possible methamphetamine precursor, the “Lugol’s” you buy may be much more dilute, so check the concentration carefully.
Health Benefits of Iodine: Japanese may routinely ingest 45 mg of iodine per day, largely in seaweed, while Americans usually take in only 0.24 mg. The recommended dietary intake of 0.1 to 0.15 mg is perhaps 100 times too low, writes Donald W. Miller, M.D. Doses of 6 g/day or more have been used in sporotrichosis in the past. In 2,400 asthmatic patients, use of 5 g KI, four days on and three days off, resulted in 12 cases of myxedema and 4 of thyroid swelling. Many medical conditions, including fibrocystic disease of the breast, fibromyalgia, migraine, diabetes, and hypothyroidism, have shown benefit from at least 12.5 mg/day (www.jpands.org/vol11no4/millerd.pdf).
SIRADs Urgently Needed
SIRAD (self-indicating radiation alert dosimeter) technology (www.jplabs.com) “provides both tools and the motivation to establish life-saving programs, partly by dispelling the myth that such measures would be futile,” writes Allen Brodsky, D.Sc. (J Am Phys Surg, summer 2010). Dr. Brodsky has worked in medical radiation physics since measuring the direct radiation of the first hydrogen bombs, and has trained responders in fallout fields.
Brodsky is confident that most people who survive blast and heat, outside the zone of close-in explosions, would not receive lethal radiation exposure after a terrorist event. He is not aware of any other affordable personal dosimeters of the appropriate dose range that meet the needs of emergency responders in both natural and technologic disasters and terrorism or war.
He explains that the reading on a SIRAD worn near the waist or chest would always be on the safe (high) side if it is in error (see www.jpands.org/vol15no2/brodsky.pdf).
Casualty Counts from Other Events
- 1907 Monongah coal mine: 362 deaths from underground explosion (Source: CFACT).
- 1944 East Ohio Gas Company: Liquefied natural gas explosion killed 130, destroyed 1 sq mi of Cleveland.
- 1975 Shimatan/Banqiao Dam failure: 171,000
- 1979 Morvi Dam failure: 1,500
- 1998 Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Jess oil pipeline explosion: 1,078
- 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear Generating Station: about 50 direct deaths in workers and firefighters; a 15% to 30% deficit of late solid-cancer mortality in emergency workers, and a 5% deficit in solid cancer incidence in the most heavily contaminated area (Z. Jaworowski); a 38% decline in thyroid cancer in 34,000 Swedes downwind, who absorbed large doses of I-131; the toll from panic was >336,000, as people were impoverished and sickened by being evacuated from homes and workplaces (Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post 3/25/11).
- 1945 atomic bombs. Fewer cancer deaths in survivors exposed to less than 20 rads; no genetic defects in 90,000 children and grandchildren of survivors exposed to 40–60 rad (Atomic Bomb Disease Institute, Nagasaki Univ. School of Medicine, cited by Solomon, Financial Post 3/22/11).
Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) wrote that “this disaster serves to highlight both the fragility of nuclear power plants and the potential consequences associated with a radiological release” (Nature 3/17/11). Politically speaking.
The energy released by the earthquake was the equivalent of 336 megatons of TNT (WSJ 3/14/11). The tsunami walls were not quite high enough; a 30-ft wall of water took out the back-up power supply to the cooling water pumps.
The world’s stock of 443 nuclear power reactors could easily double in the next 15 years, according to the World Nuclear Association—mostly in China and India (NY Times 3/14/11).
Federal RadNet Dysfunctional
Six of 12 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sensors on the California coast were not functioning properly, and could result in delayed warnings of a significant radiation spike. This is not a problem now, since the tiny amounts of radiation that could come from Japan are not dangerous. But what about nuclear terrorism or war? Emergency managers rely on private owners of nuclear plant operators for information about releases from the plant. But what about large sources from bombs remote from the plant? None of the detectors spread throughout the U.S., some at universities and some deployed in large cities by the Dept. of Homeland Security, transmit data in real time to an early warning system (LA Times 3/25/11).
For frequent authoritative updates on Fukushima from the American Nuclear Society, see www.ansnuclearcafe.org. Also see: www.iaea.org, and www.oecd-nea.org/.
Civil Defense Perspectives 27(3): March 2011