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March 17, 2011 

Japan Should Be First In Line for Potassium Iodide Pills

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2011)--The people of Japan should be given priority access to potassium iodide (KI) pills used to protect against thyroid cancer following inhalation of radioactive iodine, according to a recommendation released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Given the fact that Japan is thousands of miles from the United States, it is highly unlikely that Americans would be exposed to radioactive iodine from direct inhalation of a plume from the Fukushima nuclear complex. Direct inhalation is the kind of exposure that potassium iodide pills would be most effective against.

Regardless, there are reports that global supplies of potassium iodide pills are being depleted because Americans are buying them, prompting fears that there will not be adequate supplies in Japan in the event of a larger radiological release.

Besides inhalation, another way Americans could be exposed to radioactive iodine is if agricultural products were contaminated. Radioactive iodine could be ingested by dairy cows, for example, and then would be concentrated in milk. Potassium iodide, however, would not be an effective countermeasure in that situation. Moreover, federal and state health authorities would test for such contamination and could take products off the market if necessary.


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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