March 14, 2011, 2:52 pm
One of the most abundant substances in the cloud of radioactive steam released by a failing nuclear power plant is iodine-131—a radioactive form of the element, iodine, that is found throughout nature. Iodine-131 poses a special health risk because of its cancer-causing effect on the thyroid gland.
The small, butterfly-shaped thyroid sits just below the voice box. From this perch, it controls how fast every cell in the body changes food into energy. The gland’s main product, thyroid hormone, governs the function of the digestive tract, brain, heart, nerves, muscles, bones, skin, and more.
Iodine is a key ingredient that goes into making thyroid hormone. We get this element from ocean-caught or ocean-farmed fish and shellfish, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and fruits and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil.
The human body is surprisingly good at absorbing iodine and storing it in the thyroid gland. That’s a problem when iodine-131 is released into the atmosphere. The thyroid stores it as readily as natural, non-radioactive iodine. As iodine-131 builds up in the thyroid gland, it emits bursts of radiation that can damage DNA and other genetic material. Such damage can remove the normal limits to cell growth and division. Unchecked growth of thyroid tissue is thyroid cancer.
Iodine-131 gets into the body several ways. A person can breathe in radioactive steam released by a nuclear power plant. Fallout—radioactive particles that fall out of the atmosphere and settle onto plants, soil, and water—further adds to the burden when a person eats iodine-131 enriched fruits and vegetables or drinks water containing the isotope. Milk is another vehicle—cows that eat grass sprinkled with iodine-131 make milk that contains it.
Following the explosion and meltdown of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986, follow-up health studies showed a significant increase in thyroid cancer in the area around Chernobyl, especially among children who were under 10 years old at the time of the explosion and those in utero. Youths may be most affected by iodine-131 because their thyroid glands are still growing and developing. Fortunately, as cancers go, thyroid cancer is one of the least deadly. In the United States, only about 5% of people who develop thyroid cancer die of the disease. (Researchers aren’t yet sure if this applies to radiation-induced thyroid cancer.)
As my colleague Peter Wehrwein describes in a related post, taking potassium iodide pills can help keep iodine-131 from taking up residence in the thyroid gland. The seafood-rich Japanese diet provides an abundance of iodine. Because the thyroid glands of those affected by fallout from the failing nuclear power plants may be “full” of natural iodine, iodine-131 may not be able to get into the gland, giving them natural protection against radiation-induced thyroid cancer.
An American nuclear expert says radiation from Japan could spread across the Pacific and reach the United States if a complete meltdown occurs at a Japanese nuclear facility damaged as a result of last week’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund says Japan’s nuclear crisis is in a critical phase.
“One of the [Japanese] reactors has had half the core exposed already. This is the one they are now flooding with seawater in a desperate effort to prevent a complete meltdown.”
Cirincione spoke on the Fox News Sunday television program. He said the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Japan’s northeast coast is one of at least three nuclear facilities at risk.
Japan has evacuated civilians from areas surrounding the troubled plant, but Cirincione says radiation could spread far beyond Japan if efforts to contain the crisis fail.
Explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant
“The worst-case scenario is that the fuel rods fuse together – temperatures get so hot that [they] melt together into a radioactive molten mass that busts through the containment mechanisms. So they spew radioactivity into the ground, into the air, into the water. Some of that radioactivity could carry in the atmosphere to the west coast of the United States.”
Japan’s ambassador in Washington, Ichiro Fujisaki, acknowledged potential dangers, but said no complete nuclear meltdown appears imminent.
“It is true that part of [the] fuel rod may have been deformed or melting. But it is not a situation where [the] core reactor, the substantial part of [the] reactor, is melting down.”
The ambassador spoke on NBC’s Meet the Press. Also appearing on the program was the head of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute, Marvin Furtel, who praised Japan’s response to the nuclear crisis. Furtel said a meltdown at a nuclear power plant does not always result in a massive release of radiation, as America’s own history shows.
“At Three Mile Island [in Pennsylvania], which was the worst accident we ever had, about half of the core melted, so about 50 percent. It resulted in no [radiation] releases off-site that threatened anybody. So, you can have fuel melt, and if the rest of your safety systems, your containment, works and you manage to keep the reactor under control, the dangers for public health and safety are really minimal.”
What can I do to protect myself and my family from iodine-129 and iodine-131?
The thyroid cannot tell the difference between radioactive and non-radioactive iodine. It will take up radioactive iodine in whatever proportion it is available in the environment.
If large amounts of radioactive iodine are released during an nuclear accident, large doses of stable iodine may be distributed by government agencies to keep your thyroid gland from absorbing too much radioactive iodine: Raising the concentration of stable iodine in the blood, increases the likelihood that the thyroid will absorb it instead of radioactive iodine. (Note: Large doses of stable iodine can be a health hazard and should not be taken except in an emergency. However iodized table salt is an important means of acquiring essential non-radioactive iodine to maintain health.
The United States was born on July 4th, 1776 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usa
July 4th, 1776
7 + 4 +1+7+7+6 = 32 = the United States’ life lesson = what the United States is here to learn = Mainstream. Consensus. Majority.
July 4th, 1776
7 + 4 +2+0+1+0 = 14 = the United States’ personal year (from July 4th, 2010 to July 3rd, 2011) = Diet. Moderation.
14 year + 3 (March) = 17 = the United States’ personal month = Health.
17 month + 15 (15th of the month on Tuesday March 15th, 2011) = 32 = the United States’ personal day = Mainstream. Consensus. Majority.
When the United States’ number (32 (7 + 4 +1+7+7+6 = 32)) comes up, that’s when the United States gets to live/experience what the United States is here to live/experience. So this is the United States’ day!!!