KI: Truth or Lies?

  1. Wassup?

KI (potassium iodide) is being distributed right now within the 10 kilometre “zones” of the Pickering & Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations (PNGS & DNGS) – two very large nuclear generating stations (10 operating reactors altogether; 6 at Pickering, 4 at Darlington) located east of Toronto, Canada’s largest city.

Direction sign to Nukes
Direction sign to Nukes

<graphic shows distances from downtown Toronto>

(KI distribution is also happening around the very large Bruce nuclear station on Lake Huron.)

This is by order of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), Canada’s federal nuclear “regulator.” More details below.

So, if you live in the 10 K “zone” around PNGS or DNGS, you will be receiving KI pills (by mail).

For the record, 2 things:

  • The DNA group was calling for KI pre-distribution back in 1997 (possibly even earlier) – specifically, for the emergency evacuation zones to be expanded from 10 K to 30 K, and for KI to be pre-distributed to everyone within the 30 K zone.
  • In New Brunswick, every resident has received KI in the 12 K “planning” zone, as well as within the 20 K “planning” zone of the Point Lepreau plant – since 1982 (they are delivered there door-to-door).

More “official” information about this program here.

KI Resources page on this site.

  1. Why KI?

Potassium iodide will protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine in the event of a nuclear accident. Children are particularly in need of this protection and particularly susceptible to thyroid cancer if not so protected.

Thus, having KI on hand in the event of a serious nuclear accident is a protective measure.

Having it ahead of time is essential, since during the disruption that inevitably follows a nuclear accident, obtaining KI pills is liable to be a low priority for citizens (& authorities) trying to cope with a plethora of other pressing challenges.

  1. Recent News About Thyroid Cancer – Japan

Last week Beyond Nuclear reported on recent studies about thyroid cancer incidence in Japan since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011.

Incidence is up dramatically, particularly in areas well west of the plant, where people were not evacuated.

Plenty of news about this on the Beyond Nuclear site here.

As well, the Toronto Star had an article about this recent research evidence.

KI pills were not distributed in Japan prior to the accident, nor at the time of the accident. A great many things went awry in the wake of the nuclear disaster. Evacuations were botched (including leaving people in what were known for weeks to be "hotspots)," orders to distribute KI fell between bureaucratic cracks, and overall, it is said, the “chain of command” in response to the nuclear disaster broke down.

(The posting ‘Fukushima: what really happened?’ has plenty of information about the disaster, as does the earlier posting ‘Fukushima: Emergency Planning? Failing Grade.’ Many quotes about the causes of the nuclear disaster can be found here.)

** Extremely important to note: thyroid cancer is not the only health impact possible. More on this below.

  1. Older News About Thyroid Cancer / KI Pills

As DNA members have learned from the American Thyroid Association 2014 brochure, KI proved to be pretty effective against thyroid cancer in Poland after the Chernobyl accident (April 26, 1986). According to this brochure, KI was distributed to more than 95% of the children within 3 days, & the rate of thyroid cancer “does not appear to have had an increase.” In Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, however, the children were not so fortunate. “As many as 3000 people exposed to that radiation developed thyroid cancer over the next 10 years. Most victims had been babies or young children living in Ukraine, Belarus and Ukraine.” “The region of excess risk extended up to a 200 mi radius from Chornobyl.”

Also mentioned: the cancers were “aggressive” & the associated health care costs continue to place a “heavy burden.”

In reading the book Voices from Chernobyl - The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (by recent Nobel Prize for Literature winner Svetlana Alexievich) I came across this comment about KI pills post-Chernobyl accident: “Those who could, got potassium iodide (you couldn’t get it at the pharmacy in my town, you had to really know someone).” <pg. 85> Not many could have taken it at the right time in any case, since the government failed to notify the citizenry until several days after the accident took place.

  1. The CNSC KI Directive – Fall 2014

Almost exactly a year ago (after much discussion, Fukushima “enhancements” to the Canadian nuclear plants, &, dare I say, public pressure) Canada’s nuclear “regulator” ordered that KI pills be pre-distributed to households within the 10 K “zone” of the country’s nuke plants.

(Discussing the "zones" around nuke plants is another whole topic. The zones are pretty much arbitrary, are designated by the industry itself for its own convenience, and, as we have learned from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, radioactive plumes are certainly no respecters of man’s artificial boundaries, national borders or regional dividing lines. Radioactivity travels with the winds – far & wide & very unpredictably.)

So, at 4:01 pm on Friday, October 10th last year (the Friday of Canadian Thanksgiving, a long weekend here), CNSC sent out a news release about what they call REG.DOC.2.10.1 & the plan to distribute KI pills. They might have been aiming to miss the media with that late Friday afternoon release, but it didn’t work out that way, and there was a fair bit of media coverage that weekend & early the following week.

Then, 4 days later, on October 14th, CNSC sent out a message with this info: “Four independent third party studies explore and describe the benefits of distributing KI pills in advance to citizens within a 30-mile (48 kilometres) radius of a nuclear power plant, and the need for timely and correct consumption of these pills in the case of a nuclear accident.

The studies indicate such preventative measures can greatly reduce the accumulation of radioiodines in the thyroid gland, as well as the resulting radiation dose. This is an essential measure, since thyroid cancer –, most specifically in children and infants – is one of the most frequently observed consequences of a nuclear accident.

The studies also highlight the need for appropriate administrative policies and increased research on the topic of children and infant consumption of KI pills, to better understand both the effectiveness and the safety of these measures.

Read the studies:  <end of quote from CNSC message>

Note: the media apparently did not receive this info. This was sent merely to the many of us who are on an information list for CNSC messages. Interesting that the press got the 10 K info … but not the info about 10 K probably being insufficient.

Hmmmmmm.

  1. Switzerland

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the nuclear regulator did modelling to assess the likely impacts of a Fukushima-scale (International Nuclear Event Scale or INES Level 7) nuclear accident.

They carried this out transparently (in stark contrast to CNSC’s “severe accident study” debacle; the severe accident study that was clearly NOT a severe accident study – all thoroughly laid out in the posting ‘Severe Accident Study. Oops. Not really!), and concluded by sending out KI pills to all Swiss citizens within a 50 K radius of their nuke plants. Info on this here (en français).

The American Thyroid Association, btw, recommends pre-distribution to 50 miles (not kilometres) & comments “No one can predict how far a radioactive iodine cloud might spread” & recommends 3 levels of coverage. Check out the brochure for yourself here.

It also notes that the WHO (World Health Organization) endorses KI distribution and that France, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland “not only stockpile KI but predistribute KI to their populations.”

Finally, this brochure states under the heading ‘How Should KI Be Incorporated Into an Overall Emergency Plan?’ “KI is an adjunct to evacuation, sheltering (staying in an unventilated room with the doors and windows closed), and avoiding contaminated food, milk, and water. KI should not take the place of any other protective measures.”

  1. Note! A very important note

In all the hoopla surrounding this discussion taking place in Durham Region these days, it would be very easy to lose sight of a highly important fact: thyroid cancer is not – not by a long shot – the only possible/likely health consequence from exposure to radiation following a nuclear accident.

There are myriad others. Note links below in the Resources section for information about health consequences – not just of exposure following an accident, but from “routine” emissions from nuclear plants.

2nd note: As just stated above, KI does not constitute emergency planning! With all the fuss being made by CNSC, OPG, Ontario’s health ministry and the Durham Region Health Department, a person could be fooled into thinking something of substance is taking place here. Really, it is not!

KI is an “adjunct” and “should not take the place of any other protective measures.”

KI will not prevent an accident from happening. It will assuredly not make you "safe."

It will also not protect you (or your loved ones) against the many other possible health consequences if an accident does take place. Nor, of course, from so-called Routine Releases.

  1. Conclusion & Resources

I hope it’s becoming clear that it's probably a pretty sensible idea to develop a healthy skepticism about claims made by the nuclear industry (& our “authorities”) regarding so-called nuclear “safety” & official readiness/preparations for a nuclear accident (the latter, we note, meaning “off-site” emergency response, being a provincial, regional and municipal responsibility).

If you’re not convinced yet of the need for a little digging, please look through the list of recent postings on this blog that you’ll see over to the right-hand side of the page.

Relevant Resources

CHERNOBYL LINKS

Bruce Hearing: Emergency Planning -- Notable

In April 2015 the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) held a 3½ day hearing to consider Bruce Power’s request for a 5-year license for the 8 reactors it operates near the town of Kincardine, on the shores of Lake Huron. The discussions that took place around emergency planning issues are of great relevance to Durham Region, with its own 10 reactors (6 at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, 4 at Darlington NGS), and with OPG (Ontario Power Generation) slated for a hearing with CNSC later this year to ask for a 13-year license for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Durham Nuclear Awareness (DNA) is a Durham Region-based group opposed to the use of nuclear energy. Our position is based on concerns about

  • health
  • safety
  • long-term waste disposal/waste storage/decommissioning
  • inadequate nuclear emergency planning.

You can find many posts on this blog about emergency planning. In fact, most of the postings here are about emergency planning, since that is the group's current focus. (On this page you’ll find all postings grouped by topic.)

This posting is to list some notable things that were said at the recent Bruce hearing. (You can find a Webcast of the hearing here).

The quotes referenced in this post all come from April 16th. The written transcript for that day is linked here.

The presentations of particular interest to me were those of

  • Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) -- pages 28-86 of the transcript. YouTube available here
  • Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) -- pages 101-116, YouTube here.
  • Jutta Splettstoesser -- pages 249-277, YouTube here.

Important things that emerged/became obvious at this hearing, vis-à-vis emergency planning:

  1. Much last-minute scrambling took place on the part of Bruce Power (& the municipality) to make emergency plans around the Bruce plant appear to be thorough & up-to-date. This became apparent during Ms. McClenaghan’s remarks on behalf of CELA, as referenced above, found on pages 28-86 of the transcript. Sudden new plans had materialized, an old missing Appendix N from the plan that was continually referenced never actually did materialize. Bruce Power was quick to claim that much had been done, but as Ms. McClenaghan pointed out: “These are old plants, operating for decades and it’s not as though they were just commissioned last year and it’s not as though emergency planning is a new topic. And in my report I indicated to you the recommendations that were made 20 years ago—over 20 years ago by a Cabinet committee and I use that as the framework for some of the recommendations. That report from the Ontario Cabinet doesn’t appear to have been acted on, at least that we can see because, for example, the planning basis hasn’t been revised and the emergency planning zone hasn’t been revised.” (transcript, Page 32-33).
  2. Ms. McClenaghan was complimented by three different sources for her/CELA’s work on nuclear emergency planning over the past few years. The first to do so was OFMEM (Office of the Fire Marshall and Emergency Planning) staffer Dave Nodwell (pg. 42/5 of the transcript). The second was CNSC tribunal member Rumina Velshi (pg. 51/62) and the third, CNSC staffer Ramzi Jammal (pg. 70). While DNA is fully aware of Ms. McClenaghan’s determined & persistent efforts, to hear these complimentary remarks being made was highly unusual. The contributions of public interest groups are almost never acknowledged in this way.
  3. The actions taken to update emergency planning around nuclear plants in the past few years can be attributed not to proactive action from the CNSC, not to proactive efforts from the nuclear industry, not to action from the various government agencies tasked with nuclear emergency planning – but as a result of the Fukushima accident -- and the ongoing public pressure, pure and simple. Claims had always been made that reactors were "safe." Now, post-Fukushima upgrades, they are said to be "even safer." There is no question that public pressure is essential for creating better emergency planning.
  4. Yet another sign that public pressure regarding nuclear emergency planning is required & is recognized as valuable: OFMEM’s Al Suleman saying (in reference to Bruce County resident Ms. Splettstoesser’s intervention), “I just want to comment that the information provided by the intervenor is actually very useful and very timely for us.” (page 264 of transcript, 267 of the pdf document).
  5. Ms. McClenaghan’s reference to a Cabinet document from September 1993 reveals that the planning basis for a nuclear emergency in Ontario was the subject of study going back to 1988, i.e., 2 years after the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident (now 27 years ago). Cabinet called for a change of the planning basis in 1993. Yet it has still not been changed.

** Note: in order to obtain the supplementary document that Ms. McClenaghan referenced (pg. 32 of the transcript), I wrote to the CNSC. You can find it here CELA Supplem-Bruce Hearing-Apr'15 copy. Cabinet material begins on Page 84. If you need other documents pertaining to the Bruce hearing, check out the CNSC site here.     &/or write to Interventions@cnsc-ccsn.gc.ca

Some other notable things that were said:

Dave Nodwell, Program Manager (of nuclear emergency planning) from OFMEM (Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services) said “One of the keys here is the operationalization of the plans, and that will be the next step. And really, in my mind, that is the most important step because you can put into a plan that you will be doing this, this, and that. But really, it is about drilling down in terms of how exactly that is accomplished and making sure that you can operationalize those things.” (pg. 43 of transcript)

In other words, plans are all very well … but you have to put serious meat on the bones of the plans, not just talk-talk-talk-talk-talk, then expect things to miraculously come together in the midst of the chaos of a nuclear accident. (Things did not come together well, post-Fukushima accident, as testified to here, & at greater length, here.)

Tribunal member Dr. Barriault (Dr. Barriault is an M.D. member of the CNSC tribunal) said “I don’t know if it’s fair to ask the CNSC to put it as part of their objectives to do emergency response evaluation on a regular basis and basically to assure that the work'’ being done because what I’m seeing is probably similar to when we had the problem with the alarms. We’re seeing that people are saying, well, yes, it’s part of my job, but it’s not my whole job. It’s somebody else’s and somebody else. But the difficulty with all of that is that nobody’s assuring itself that it’s being done, and done in a timely manner.” (pg 270 of transcript)

(Note of explanation: “alerting” (i.e., sirens) around the nuclear plants was ordered to be improved back in 1993. It took more than 20 years for this work to finally be carried out. This is what Dr. Barriault was referring to.)

Rumina Velshi (also a CNSC tribunal member) said “I have a suggestion for the Province that I hope you take into consideration. You have mentioned that as you are revising the PNR [my note: this should read PNERP] you are engaging the stakeholders and that public consultation won't start until next year that stakeholders, NGOs like CELA, I think, are critical stakeholders that you are probably better off engaging earlier rather than later. You have already talked about the value of their recommendations, so something for you to consider.” (pg. 83 of transcript/p. 86 in pdf)

Re: KI pills being needed BEFORE exposure:

Dr. Sandor Demeter. “As a physician advisor to CNSC, I just wanted to make sure that there was a clarity. The intervener initially said that the benefit of the pill is within two or three hours and I want to make sure that there's a clarity that two to three hours is before they are exposed.

There's about a greater than 95 per cent chance of blocking, if you know that the wind is coming and you take it before you're exposed; about a 90 per cent of blocking if they get it the same time you're exposed; and diminishing returns thereafter.

So it's not to say that that's not going to happen, I mean, the access is there and you have to deal with the demographics and the population density, but I wanted to make sure that there was clarity of that statement that within two or three hours is not after they're exposed, it's before they're exposed.” (pg. 115/118)

 ** For the record, look at the American Thyroid Assoc-2014 brochure regarding the use of KI, which lays out sobering information about the lack of KI protection for the children of Ukraine & Belarus, leading to aggressive thyroid cancers there.

 The ATA endorses a geographically wide pre-distribution scenario that is also endorsed by the World Health Organization – WHO. (This information is in the brochure.)

To Conclude:

The recent Bruce hearing is very relevant to the Durham situation in a number of ways.

First of all, Bruce Power asked for (& was recently granted) a 5-year license. (OPG is asking for a 13-year one for Darlington, hearing to take place later in the year.)

Secondly, all these discussions around emergency planning have every bit as much relevance and importance to the citizens of Durham Region as they do to the Bruce County community. Bruce Power has 8 operating reactors. Durham is home to 10 aging reactors all told, between the Pickering & Darlington Nuclear Generating Stations.

Nuclear emergency planning is a provincial responsibility. It can all seem more than a little confusing, with so many different levels of government involved (see posting here for a list of them all). There are indeed a great many cracks for things to fall between – and things definitely did fall between the cracks in Japan, where among other issues, the “chain of command” failed.

Bottom line?

Nuclear emergency planning in Ontario is not adequate. Not up-to-date, not up to snuff.

This has to change.

 

Recommended:

** American Thyroid Assoc-2014 brochure

** Quotations page posting for insights about nuclear emergency planning, its weaknesses, & including official conclusions about the causes of the (very much ongoing) Fukushima disaster.

** Recent Fairewinds YouTube (17 minutes) that lays out 4 common elements to the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima.