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.


  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


Fukushima: Emergency Planning? Failing Grade

Today – March 11, 2015 – marks the 4th anniversary of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. There is so much one could say about this horrific accident.

One could speak at length about collusion between nuclear regulators & industry – and how this collusion exists not just in Japan, but worldwide.

How the sea wall built to protect the site was not improved in spite of the fact that the deficiency was known about for years before the accident, & never rectified (considerable detail about failures on the part of TEPCO & the Japanese regulator laid out in this very thorough, very readable report commissioned by the Japanese parliament).

One could discuss reactor cores & how far away “hot particles” were found.

Or the daily-daily-daily ongoing release of tons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, causing who knows what unthinkable damage to all the life in that precious, irreplaceable body of water.

Or, perhaps, the huge piles of contaminated soils & debris being collected & stored in plastic bags (one related photo here) – bags with pretty short half-lives, you might say; soon enough, no doubt, to re-release the contaminants & re-contaminate earth, water & air) – or in some cases, debris incinerated & thus dispersed hither & yon on air currents (& via bodies of water).

The scope of this disaster, in other words, is nothing short of massive.

Let’s talk instead about the people of Japan.

& how emergency preparedness failed utterly to … prepare them.

Toshimitsu Homma of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency stated in April 2013 at an international conference on Emergency Management (held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) that the most important lesson of Fukushima was that before the accident, “There was an implicit assumption that such a severe accident could not happen and thus insufficient attention was paid to such an accident by authorities.”

The “planning” for a real-life accident was not, shall we just politely say, realistic or, to use a term so frequently used by the nuclear industry, robust.

First, there were delays in ordering evacuations, and information provided was sketchy and minimal. Many people were evacuated into areas where the winds were carrying the worst contamination. Information was not provided in timely or helpful fashion, and many were left to “shelter in place” and then later advised to evacuate. Many people died in hospitals.

From The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission: “A total of 146,520 residents were evacuated as a result of the government’s evacuation orders. However, many residents in the plant’s vacinity evacuated without accurate information. Unaware of the severity of the accident, they planned to be away only for a few days and evacuated with only the barest necessities. Evacuation orders were repeatedly revised as the evacuation zones expanded from the original 3-kilometer radius to 10 kilometers and later, 20 kilometers, all in one day. Each time the evacuation zone expanded, the residents were required to relocate. Some evacuees were unaware that they had been relocated to sites with high levels of radiation. Hospitals and nursing homes in the 20-kilometer zone struggled to secure evacuation transportation and find accommodations; 60 patients died in March from complications related to the evacuation. Frustration among the residents increased.

On March 15, residents in the zone between 20 and 30 kilometers from the plant were ordered to shelter-in-place. Since the order lasted for several weeks, these residents suffered greatly from a lack of communication and necessities. As a result, the shelter-in-place order was then revised to voluntary evacuation. Again, information on the basis for revising the evacuation order was sadly lacking, and residents found themselves having to make evacuation decisions without the necessary facts. The Commission concludes that the gov ernment effectively abandoned their responsibility for public safety.” END QUOTE

People had not been provided with potassium iodide (called KI) pills ahead of time, or if pills were available, the order to take them was not given. (There is some scandal over some university people getting KI, but not sharing the pills with other citizens.)

The amount of falling between the cracks, miscommunication, failure to follow chain of command, delays, lack of transparency, failure to give accurate & timely information about evacuation? All of these were over the top.

The fallout since?

  • Families have been broken apart in a multitude of ways
  • Communities destroyed
  • People have been lied to about contamination levels
  • Health effects have been minimized & lied about
  • Children are being diagnosed with thyroid cancer (108, last I heard)
  • Workers are/have been exposed to high levels of radiation (and/or lied to)
  • Radioactive contamination is here, there & everywhere
  • 120,000 people are still living in temporary housing
  • Clean-up is being rushed so people can be told their homes are now “safe” to return to
  • Compensation programs are being manipulated
  • People are being discouraged from speaking out – even jailed for doing so, I’ve heard.


(Absurdly, TEPCO is doing just fine!)

Not a pretty picture.

But a disaster economically, environmentally/ecologically ... and also a huge personal disaster for hundreds of thousands of people. Realistically, the entire country of Japan.

All these people, people like you & me, ill-prepared for disaster on such a huge scale.

Beyond our imagining, really.

In Durham Region (the entire Greater Toronto Area, in fact), we are similarly ill-prepared for a nuclear disaster.

A dizzying number of government departments (federal, provincial & municipal/regional) have a finger in the nuclear preparedness pie. (Have a look at what may be only a partial list here ).

To even the most un-trained eye, this list represents a daunting number of possible cracks for essential responses, communication & actions to fall between.

Simply mind-boggling.

Nuclear emergency exercises? Take a look at the previous post for an expert take on the real value of these expensive gatherings – designed to make the industry & responders appear ready for disaster, when in actual fact they are merely occasions for figuring out whether everyone has the right phone number to call.

Since March 11, 2011 & the frightening wake-up call of that massive accident, several countries have run, not walked, away from nuclear energy, Germany being one outstanding example.

“We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible. It’s over. Fukushima has forever changed the way we define risk in Germany,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said.

In Switzerland, post-Fukushima, nuclear emergency planning has been upgraded to reflect the real-life possibility of a severe accident (instead of planning only for an event of minor severity), and pre-distribution of KI pills is being extended to everyone within 50 kilometres of their nuclear plants.

Here in Ontario, there is far too much complacency about nuclear safety & the real risks inherent in nuclear energy production. Complacency & lack of transparency are a dangerous combination.

Boxer Mike Tyson once said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

A nuclear accident in Durham Region – so close to the large population centre that is the Greater Toronto Area – would be a horrific punch in the face.

We need more robust nuclear emergency planning – now.

Before an accident happens.


March 11, 2015.

Fukushima – 4 Years: Information Resources

Ten Lessons from Fukushima – brand-new booklet/project from Peace Boat group in Japan

Beyond NuclearFukushima Four Years On: will it happen here?

Beyond Nuclear Thunderbird newsletter on Fukushima

Fukushima Meltdown 4 Years Later2 videos on Fairewinds Energy Education site

More Fukushima info on Fairewinds site

Health Consequences after Fukushima Accident (+ other info) – 13-minute conversation with Dr. Ian Fairlie 

Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) information on Fukushima 

Quotations about emergency planning

The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (National Diet of Japan) – Executive Summary (88 pages; so worth reading! 88 pages sounds daunting but truthfully, there are many blank pages in the actual layout. Includes surveys of people & workers; so poignant to hear their voices explaining their experiences & frustrations).

The State of Affairs and Ongoing Challenges of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster  (Citizens Commission on Nuclear Energy, Tokyo, Japan)

UN’s UNSCEAR Fukushima Radiation Report Blasted by IPPNW’s Alex Rosen (if you do a search you can also find video on this)  --- UNSCEAR = United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation; IPPNW = International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Books to Check Out:

Strong in the Rain – Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, by Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill.

Fukushima – The Story of a Nuclear Disaster, by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists.  [later posting here has a ton of info from the book]

** so many videos/YouTubes one can see too, of course…

5 recent ones: