Nuclear power plant too far away: Iodine tablets against radiation will not make sense in the future either

Nuclear power plant too far away

Iodine tablets against radiation will not make sense in the future either


Sat 05.03.22 | 08:23 | Of Konrad Spremberg

Iodine tablets on a radioactivity sign (Source: imago/Steinach)
Bild: imago/Steinach

After the Russian attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the demand for iodine tablets increases – for fear of radioactive radiation. Therefore, taking them is pointless to the point of being dangerous. By Konrad Spremberg

Customers ask for iodine tablets several times a day at the Potsdam plantation pharmacy. Normally, hardly anyone is interested in it, says pharmacist Antje Oesberg. She now emphasizes: “It makes no sense to take it prophylactically!”

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection also warns against taking iodine tablets without cause or stocking up. Self-intake poses significant health risks. It should therefore only be done when requested to do so by the authorities.

Even if large amounts of radioactivity had been released during the attack on the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant on Friday night – which is currently not indicated – iodine tablets would almost certainly not be used in Germany.

Useful only up to 100 kilometers away

The most important reason: The Federal Office only considers high-dose iodine to be useful up to a distance of around one hundred kilometers from the scene of an accident. It is around 800 kilometers from south-eastern Brandenburg to the nearest Ukrainian nuclear power plant. This means that iodine will not play a role for the people in Germany in connection with the war in Ukraine for the foreseeable future.

In any case, high-dose iodine tablets only protect against a very specific risk: the absorption of radioactive iodine in the body, which can lead to thyroid cancer. In the event of a nuclear accident, however, significantly more radioactive substances are released. For this reason, the German authorities are closely monitoring the situation of the nuclear power plants in the war zones, the distance does not mean safety for Germany in every respect

114 measuring points in Berlin and Brandenburg

In order to be able to react immediately to the smallest deviations, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection monitors radioactivity on German soil on a small scale. The natural radiation exposure is measured around the clock at 114 measuring points in Berlin and Brandenburg. The locations of all 1,700 measuring points in Germany can be viewed on a map [odlinfo.bfs.de]. There are currently no abnormalities to report.

“We are always prepared for a situation in which radioactive elements escape,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) on Friday during a visit to the Bundeswehr Operations Command in Geltow. Referring directly to the war in Ukraine, he said: “It hasn’t happened now. But it shows how dangerous the situation is. Wars lead to destruction that may not be intended by any of the warring parties, but the effects are terrible can.”

Nuclear power plants are not designed for war

Accidental damage to nuclear power plants during wartime is a realistic risk, even though the power plants are built with many safeguards. Because military attacks are not normally planned for when building nuclear power plants, says Dr. Matthias Englert, expert for nuclear technology and plant safety at Öko-Institut e. V

If there were a nuclear accident – ​​in the Ukraine or elsewhere – the weather would be decisive, along with the distance to the accident site. Wind and weather have a significant influence on the areas in which a radioactive cloud can become dangerous. If the Federal Republic were affected, the civil protection authorities would take the necessary measures.

“You would have to take 500 tablets”

In the event of an accident in the immediate vicinity, this could also mean the distribution of iodine tablets. For this purpose, more than 180 million tablets are stored at various locations. The federal states would organize their distribution via town halls, fire stations and pharmacies, for example.

However, these tablets are not comparable to the over-the-counter iodine from pharmacies, they have to be dosed much higher in the event of a disaster. “You can’t achieve this dosage with the normal tablets that you take for thyroid prophylaxis,” says pharmacist Antje Oesberg. “You’d have to take 500 tablets of that to get that dosage, so stocking up on normal iodide tablets doesn’t make sense at all.”

Radioactivity directly affects agriculture

After an accident, consequences for food and agriculture would be much more likely in Germany. This could mean fields would have to be harvested and livestock would have to be moved permanently to stables. This could have an impact on the food supply. Such a scenario would be quite conceivable if radioactive radiation were actually released in the Ukraine. The spokesman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Achim Neuhäuser, confirms this to rbb.

But there are already bottlenecks today, for people who are dependent on iodine tablets. In many pharmacies, including online, they no longer get their preparations for iodine deficiency and thyroid diseases. The reason: people hoard low-dose iodine tablets for fear of radioactive radiation – emotionally understandable perhaps, but pointless in any case.

Broadcast: Brandenburg Aktuell, March 4th, 2022, 7:30 p.m

Contribution by Konrad Spremberg