The Most Dangerous Time

If You Don’t Believe Them, Get Your Potassium Iodide

In times of nuclear crisis, the public needs more than platitudes about minimal risk from industry and regulators with conflicts-of-interest.

The alternative is not to freak out on worst-case scenarios, but to live by the precautionary principle.



The public should be able to trust the government’s information and monitoring, without worries about official negligence. Funny thing though, yesterday the detectors at O’Hare International Airport were reporting radiation all over passengers on a flight from Tokyo.

The prudent and skeptical might want to stock up on potassium iodide. Of course, the local supply of 135 milligram tablets, recommended in a radiation zone, are sold out. To have a healthier thyroid, and receive an unknown level of protection against the winds, you can buy a multi-vitamin containing 150 micrograms of potassium iodide. It’s not likely to do much good, but consumer demand needs to be heard.

Air currents carrying radioactive iodine, cesium, and even plutonium will reach California this Friday, striking our frail elderly, infants, pregnant women and nursing mothers. When similar winds hit Ireland and Scotland after Chernobyl in 1986, cattle were poisoned and a brief ban on milk was imposed.

One example of why real information is sketchy: the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] ranks nuclear disasters on a numerical chart, with Chernobyl a 7 and Three Mile Island a 5. The Japanese catastrophe is ranked only as a 4 because the ranking is based on how the Japanese government defines the evacuation zone. The smaller the zone, the lower the ranking. But the Japanese government has been minimizing the scale and risk of the disaster all week.

Obama nuclear adviser Jason Grumet has been all over the mainstream media this week performing damage control. “The world is fundamentally a set of relative risks,” he told the New York Times [Mar. 14]. Grumet’s Bipartisan Policy Center, while including environmental voices, is vested in promoting what he calls “a growing impetus in the environmental community to support nuclear power as part of a broad bargain on energy and climate policy.” A leader of the Bipartisan Policy Center is John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, a huge Chicago-based utility holding company promoting nuclear power, and longtime player in Chicago politics. Another board member is retired General Charles Wald, who has argued that a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is “technically-feasible and credible”, and who authored a report on using renewable resources in the military, including portable nuclear power plants.

tom haydenNo one really knows the short- or long-term effects of simultaneous reactor meltdowns, including one reactor where the fuel rods include plutonium, considered the world’s most dangerous element. The nuclear regulatory establishment has been compromised in its capacity for truth-telling. Thirty years ago, an Atomic Energy Commission official, Stephen Hanauer, proposed shutting down the so-called Mark 1 system, and nothing happened; in the 1980s, another NRC official claimed there was a 90 percent probability of a disaster, and nothing happened again. Now the threat is back, and the innocents are on their own.

Tom Hayden

Republished with permission


Published by the LA Progressive on March 21, 2011
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About Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden is a former state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His books include The Port Huron Statement [new edition], Street Wars and The Zapatista Reader.