The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today an independent submission by radiation risks expert Dr Ian Fairlie (1) on the role of science and scientific advice in emergency incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials. (2)
The submission was made by Dr Fairlie to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and has the full support of the NFLA, who assisted with some background information to the submission.
The Committee is holding an inquiry into the use of scientific information in CBRN incidents. Dr Fairlie’s response focuses on emergency planning and the issue of releasing potassium iodine tablets to the public to provide vital support in the event of an incident which involves a release of radiation.
In the event of a nuclear accident or incident, the three main responses are shelter, evacuation, and iodine prophylaxis. Dr Fairlie’s submission considers the use of iodine tablets following an emergency.
The prior ingestion of stable iodine is an effective means of protecting the thyroid gland from thyroid cancer and other thyroid effects, especially among children. It is necessary to consume stable iodine immediately after a nuclear incident: the best way to provide this is the advance distribution of stable iodine prior to any accident or incident.
Dr Fairlie’s submission makes the following conclusions:
- To ensure preparedness, quicker responses and better public protection, practical steps need to be implemented before any nuclear accident or incident occurs. In particular, the pre-distribution of potassium iodide or iodate tablets is an effective way of protecting the thyroid gland, and tablets needs to be swallowed immediately after a known nuclear incident/accident. Unfortunately, information on the whereabouts of such tablets, their stocks and their planned distribution is withheld by UK authorities.
- Several other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland, have already pre-distributed potassium iodide tablets apparently without difficulty. It is therefore recommended that stable iodine, along with precise dose instructions and the reasons for pre-distribution, should now be distributed to all families within at least 30 km of UK nuclear reactors.
- Where it is anticipated that plumes from nuclear incidents and accidents could reach large urban populations (e.g. >500,000 people) located beyond 30 km, then pre-distribution should cover all these areas as well, as quick evacuations from such cities would not be feasible and their inhabitants would still need to be afforded some protection.
- For this reason, and because of the possibility of reactor accidents/incidents abroad, or malicious terrorist attacks using radioactive materials in the UK, it is also recommended that urgent consideration be given to advance distribution of potassium iodide tablets to all households throughout the UK, as occurs in other countries.
Report author Dr Ian Fairlie said:
Strong scientific evidence points towards the need for iodide tablets to be distributed right now without waiting for a nuclear accident or incident to happen. The accidents at both Chernobyl and Fukushima have also taught us that pre-distribution of potassium iodide tablets are vitally necessary.”
NFLA Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
NFLA has been concerned for many years that potassium iodide tablets should be made more readily available to the British public in the event of not just a nuclear incident or accident at a nuclear power station but also in the event of a malicious incident by terrorist groups in a UK town or city. I welcome Dr Fairlie’s cogent analysis that confirms our view that all UK households should receive tablets that would directly help them in the event of a radiation release. Belgium and the Netherlands have decided on this course of action as a result of the recent tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris. It is now time for the UK to follow this same course of action.”
This is the first of two reports on responding to nuclear risks being issued by the NFLA in May. The second focuses on nuclear security matters and will be issued imminently.
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 07771 930196.
Notes for Editors
(1) Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment. He has a degree in radiation biology from Bart’s Hospital in London and a doctorate studied at Imperial College and Princeton University on the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. Dr Fairlie has worked as a civil servant on the regulation of radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, he was head of the Secretariat of the UK Government’s CERRIE (Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters) Committee on internal radiation risks. In recent years he has been a consultant on radiation matters to the European Parliament, local and regional governments (including the NFLA), environmental NGOs, and private individuals. Dr Fairlie’s specific areas of interest are the radiation doses and risks arising from the radioactive releases at nuclear facilities. For more information see http://www.ianfairlie.org.
(2) The report is attached with this briefing. It can be downloaded from the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info.
(3) German Government public information brochure on potassium iodide tablets http://www.jodblockade.de/fileadmin/user_upload/download_pdf/jodtabletten_broschuere_einnahme_en.pdf.