As we mark the first anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, questions remain about the levels of radiation contamination at the meltdown site. Approximately 16,000 people died in the Japanese disaster, mostly as a result of the unimaginable devastation caused by the massive tsunami that was triggered after the earthquake.
However, steps to deal the radiation contamination have only just begun. In fact, it isn’t really known if the disaster zone can ever be restored. Removing contaminated material puts workers at risk for radiation exposure and once contaminated material is collected, it means finding another place to put it. Even when a small area is “cleaned” it is re-contaminated by the wind blowing radiation off near-by trees, mountains and other contaminated areas. By comparison, the nuclear disaster that happened in Chernobyl in 1986 remains an off-limits contamination zone.
Radiation illness and cancers may take years to develop, based on the type, duration and intensity of exposure to the radiation source. The thyroid gland is most at risk to exposure from radiation. The thyroid gland absorbs iodine, be it radioactive or not. When the only iodine available is radioactive, the deficient thyroid gland will readily absorb it. However, if the thyroid gland is fully saturated with a safe form of iodine, it will reject the radioactive iodine.
Iodine deficiency is extremely common in the United States – it is estimated that over 90% of the population is iodine deficient. Whether or not a person has an existing thyroid disorder, providing adequate amounts of iodine through supplementation can be valuable to optimizing general well being and to minimize risk of exposure in the event of a nuclear event.
I thought this somber anniversary provided an opportunity to learn more about the nuclear reactors in the United States. In Japan, a country that generated 30% of it’s energy from the country’s 54 nuclear reactors prior to the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, only two reactors are operating today.
In the U.S., there are 104 nuclear reactors scattered throughout the country, the majority are located in the eastern half of the country. 31 states account for the 65 nuclear reactor facilities, where some facilities have up to three reactors at one site. Millions of people live within a 50-mile radius of these plants. 20% of the nation’s electricity is generated from nuclear reactor facilities.
The plants were initially designed to last for 40 years. Today 50% of the plants are 30-39 years old. As they approach their 40-year lifespan, some experts now claim that the facilities are capable of lasting up to 100 years. The country’s oldest nuclear plant, located in New Jersey, began operation in 1969. In 2009, its operating license was renewed to 2029 – which will make it 60 years old when the license comes up for renewal again.
It is not my intent to make a commentary on the state of the nuclear energy policy in the U.S. or in any way be an alarmist for potential reactor failures. However, with millions of people living within 50 miles of many of the nuclear facilities, I believe it is prudent to have safety measures in place prior to the occurrence of a disastrous event.
When the disaster occurred in Japan, stores around the world quickly sold out of their potassium iodide tablets, the form of iodine suggested to avert harm to the thyroid gland from a nuclear event. If your home is equipped with a Code Red Emergency Kit, Potassium Iodide pills should be included in the kit.
I am a proponent of iodine supplementation. With the approval of my doctor, I take 6-7 drops Thyroid Nascent Iodine every day. If you are not currently taking iodine and do not have any on hand, I suggest you take some time to learn more about iodine and keep yourself and those around you healthy and prepared for an event that I hope never occurs.
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