Company | The question: what are iodine tablets used for in the event of a nuclear accident?

In several European countries, especially France, people are rushing to pharmacies to ask for iodine tablets, which are known to be useful in a nuclear incident. The point of their operation

By La Provence (with AFP)

To avert any nuclear danger, France sends to Ukraine “2.5 million doses of iodineIn several European countries, people flock to these tablets, intended to prevent thyroid cancer from radioactive emissions. Update on their operation.

What is iodine (or potassium iodide)?

Stable iodine is a natural trace element that is absolutely necessary for health. It ends up in the composition of hormones made by the thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, which fixes inhaled or ingested iodine.

What is the use of iodine in the event of a nuclear accident?

Stable, ie non-radioactive, iodine tablets protect the thyroid against radioactive contamination. †The thyroid gland will absorb the stable iodine until saturation and therefore no longer be able to absorb the radioactive iodine that may be inhaled or swallowed.explains the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN).

A serious accident in a nuclear installation can lead to the release of radioactive iodine into the atmosphere. This radioelement, which is inhaled or ingested through the consumption of contaminated food, contributes to the irradiation of the population, putting it at increased risk of thyroid cancer.

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in 1986 caused a large release of iodine-131 and short-lived radioactive iodine. A higher rate of thyroid cancer has been observed in people living in infected areas of Belarus, Ukraine and the western part of the Russian Federation.

To prevent the thyroid from fixing radioactive iodine, taking stable iodine is a preventive measure to protect the health of the exposed population.

Saturated with stable iodine, like a sponge, the thyroid gland is no longer able to fix radioactive iodine. It can therefore be eliminated quickly and naturally through the urine.

Does stable iodine protect against all hazards from accidental exposure to radioactivity?

Iodine protects a single organ, the thyroid gland“, the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) noted to AFP, recalling that the first protection in the event of a nuclear accident is to take shelter, in a solid building.”On the other hand, taking stable iodine tablets does not protect against other radioactive elements (such as cesium 134 or cesium 137) that may be released.“, the IRSN adds.

Also, be sure to respect intake deadlines. Potassium iodide tablets are not a radiation-protective vaccine, nor are they a permanent treatment. Stable iodine tablets should ideally be administered one hour before radioactivity exposure and at the latest within 6 to 12 hours thereafter.

Efficacy is high if taken within 2 hours before the start of radioactive iodine release; it is 50% if the catch is made 6 hours after the start of the rejects. Later, after 24 hours, their side effects are more severe than the expected benefits.

Iodine tablets can be swallowed with a glass of water or dissolved in a drink.

They are particularly recommended for people whose thyroid glands are most sensitive to the risk of infection: pregnant women (fetuses), babies, children and adolescents. corn “there is no point in taking iodine tablets preventively: it is not only useless, it can also cause side effects or allergies“, the ASN underlines to AFP. An excessive intake can indeed lead to thyroid dysfunction, but also to certain cardiac or renal side effects.

Last week, Croatian doctors sounded the alarm about the dangers of uncontrolled intake of iodine pills. Concerned about the risk of a Russian nuclear attack, Belgians are also flocking to iodine tablets despite the warnings.

How to obtain?

Iodine tablets should be administered sensibly, accidentally and only on the orders of the authorities. They are not provided to pharmacy customers on request. †In the event of an accident, all means (television, radio, vehicles with loudspeakers, etc.) will be used under the responsibility of the Prefect to give instructions on how to take iodine.” assures the IRSN.

In France, since 1997, five campaigns for the distribution of stable iodine tablets have been organized by the authorities in the municipalities within a radius of 20 kilometers, in particular around the 19 EDF nuclear sites in the event of an accidental radioactive discharge. Outside this radius, departmental supplies, managed by the prefects, could be shipped as needed, the ASN said.

The tablets have a validity of seven years, which must be replaced regularly.