Radioactive Rumor Mill Doesn’t Help Anyone

Last week, the NRC’s Region III Office in Chicago spent the better part of a day dispelling rumors of a nuclear emergency on the border of Indiana and Michigan after two non-governmental radiation monitoring networks allegedly showed extremely high radiation readings. Before the readings were verified as anything beyond equipment malfunction – which is exactly what they were – social media and the rumor mill kicked into gear.

A YouTube video about the “radiation spike” was posted early in the morning and spread like wildfire. In the blink of an eye media outlets were inundated with panicked calls from the public who had seen the YouTube video. Calls from the media and the public poured into the NRC, state officials and to the nearest nuclear power plants — Palisades and D.C. Cook.

We did our due diligence –we checked with the power plants, which were operating normally with no unusual radiation release, and we checked with the state officials in Indiana and Michigan. And we also reported the calls to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Eventually, the radiation network reporting the spike, organized and maintained by local citizens, informed the public that they had experienced an equipment malfunction and made a reporting mistake due to “out-of-control readings on the GeigerGraph screen.”

Fortunately, the incident was not real and the rumor mill in this instance was short lived. Though a week later we are still receiving calls from the public and media outlets who had not heard it was a false rumor. It’s important to remember that local and state agencies and the federal government are the best, most accurate source of verified, credible emergency information. As we’ve seen before, unofficial social media can get information wrong.

Prema Chandrathil
Public Affairs Officer, Region III

Potassium Iodine – A protective measure not a magic pill

One of the protective measures that communities around nuclear power plants might use in the case of a radiological emergency is potassium iodine. But potassium iodine, often just called by its chemical symbol, KI, can be confusing for the public — exactly what does it do and when should it be taken?

So here are some facts about KI:

  • It is not an “anti radiation” pill. Potassium iodide is a salt, similar to table salt. It is routinely added to table salt to make it “iodized.” Potassium iodide, if taken within the appropriate time and at the appropriate dosage prevents the thyroid gland from taking in radioactive iodine. This can help to reduce the risk from thyroid disease, including cancer as a result of a severe reactor accident. KI doesn’t protect the thyroid gland from any other radioactive element nor does it protect the thyroid or the whole body from external exposure to radiation. Its use is very limited.
  • KI comes as a tablet, either in 65 mg or 130 mg strengths. The usual dose for a child is 65 mg, however, it is very important that the FDA dosing guidelines be followed for small children as too much stable iodine can also be harmful to them. The tablet can be easily crushed and mixed with liquid to make it easier to swallow.
  • It is important that KI not be taken unless directed by appropriate state or local authorities during the emergency and then, it should be taken in accordance with those directions.
  • KI is NOT the same thing as table salt, and table salt should never be ingested as a substitute.
  • The NRC provides KI – free of charge — to states that have requested it for their population within the 10-mile emergency planning zone of a nuclear power plant. Some states have distributed KI to residents of a plant’s emergency planning zone. In other states, KI is stockpiled and would be distributed if and when it is necessary.
  • In the event of a serious nuclear incident, KI could be used in addition to evacuation or sheltering in place in accordance with directions from responsible state/local officials. For more information, see Consideration of Potassium Iodide in Emergency Planning.

The FDA’s Frequently Asked Questions on KI is a very good resource if you want more information.

Patricia Milligan
Senior Level Advisor