The news from Japan is horrifying.  I cannot imagine the mental anguish over there, facing a nuclear accident on top of the earthquake and tsunami. Japan in particular must have a terribly cultural memory and fear of radiation.

If there is a full scale meltdown, it could affect us in the United States.  The radioactive plume will come our way – our weather patterns flow from the west to the east.

This type of fallout won’t melt our faces off like a Hollywood movie, but it can cause health problems, most notably cancer.  Children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women are the most susceptible to the effects; adults over the age of 40 are less likely to see effects in their lifetime.

I tried to find out more details of how a nuclear event in Asia will affect the USA, but all of the data I was able to come up with was the documentation after the US used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944.  I read that in America, the childhood cancer rate doubled for whites and tripled for non-whites just a few years later, from 1948-1951. (I haven’t had time to track down the original source, I’ll link up if/when I do)

Now you know I’ve been encouraging you to become prudently prepared for unforeseen events, and sometimes that means preparing for things that may never happen (and, hopefully won’t happen!)  Honestly, preparing for a nuclear disaster was at the very bottom of my list.  I never thought it was anything to worry about.  Now, it could potentially affect me and my family.

Is there anything you can do to protect your family?

Yes, there is.

*disclaimer- I’m not a doctor, just a mom who’s spent a lot of time lately trying to find out how to keep her family safe, and I’m sharing that info with you, mah peeps!*

One of the biggest threats to our health, should there be a nuclear accident in Japan, is from the radioactive iodine, I-131.  Our bodies concentrate iodine in the thyroid, and thyroid cancer is a well-documented side effect from exposure to I-131.

BUT, if you saturate the thyroid with stable, non-radioactive iodine, then the thyroid gland will not absorb the radioactive iodine.

The FDA has approved three different potassium iodide (KI) sources for protection against a nuclear accident.

The recommended dose for protection is 130 mg. KI for an adult or a child approaching adult size (over 100 pounds), 65 mg. for children.  Doses should be repeated every 24 hours, and supplementation should take place at least 30 minutes before anticipated exposure.

There are other potassium iodide supplements available at vitamin and health food stores, but the dose of iodine in them is mcg- micrograms.  There are 1000 mcg in a mg, so it would take a lot of those pills or drops to make 130 mg.

They are handing out potassium iodide tablets in Japan; if there is an emergency here health officials could recommend Americans take doses in the near future.  The FDA reports that short term supplementation is generally safe, especially for young people.

Unfortunately, the potassium iodide tablets are hard to come by in your average town, although they are readily available on the internet.  The government has some in stock in case of an emergency, and some states have given vouchers to households located near nuclear facilities.

What can you do if officials recommend iodine supplementation?  Is there anything you can do if you don’t have time to wait for shipping, or if you can’t get to a government distribution spot?

YES!  Iodine can be absorbed through the skin, and topical iodine solutions are common and cheap.  According to this site, painting the skin with 8 mL of 2% iodine solution is an equivalent dose of the recommended 130 mg.  The info is based on a small study done in 1989, “Effectiveness of Skin Absorption of Tincture of I in Blocking Radioiodine from the Human Thyroid Gland

Bottles of 10% providone-iodine solution or Betadyne are available at grocery stores.  I saw some at Kroger today and I bought some at WalMart last night.

The 10% bottles contain 1% iodine, so an adult would need twice as many mL as the 2% solution. Apply 16 mL of providone-iodine, painting it on the forearm or stomach or other thin skin.  A child would need 8 mL applied.  Again, start application at least 2 hours before the exposure, and repeat every 24 hours for the duration of the event.

DO NOT DRINK iodine solution.  It’s a TOPICAL application, so put it on your skin.Nuclear War Survival Skills Book

16 mL is slightly more than 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon.

If you are considering preparing for a nuclear accident, please read the whole FDA document. There are special considerations for breastfeeding women and doses for infants and young children.  Check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to supplement and won’t interact with your medications (and check before you need to know!)

The potassium iodide only offers protection from radioactive iodine, I-131.

Want to learn more?  Check out:

Shelter in Place During Radiation Emergencies, from the CDC

Comprehensive list of government links, from FEMA

Grassroots Radiation Monitoring Map of the USA, in real time

FAQs from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Nuclear Energy 101 how Fukushima happened

Do you think a meltdown in Japan will affect us here?


Iosat (potassium iodide pills) is currently (Monday night) available at 14 adult doses for $9.99.  If you use my affiliate link you can get a discount on your purchase, click the orange banner.
drugstore.comLinking up:

I love comments. Tell me what you think!

  • Milehimama March 12, 2011, 10:38 pm

    I wanted to add that while potassium iodide is only effective against radioactive iodine, there is a medicine that can help purge radioactive compounds from the body. Prussian Blue is available by prescription. Also, the shelter in place link has some great info for those of us who don’t have fallout shelters (which is everyone *I* know!)

  • Jenn March 13, 2011, 10:17 am

    Thanks for the info and the links. I was starting to worry I was crazy for thinking the same thing! Better safe then sorry, right!

  • Al March 13, 2011, 12:22 pm

    I’d imagine there’s data available from after Chernobyl

  • Muliebrity March 13, 2011, 2:14 pm

    We live in the danger zone of a nuclear military base, and in a train town, and I know there has to be hazardous material on some of those cars. I really should have some of these tablets.

  • Amanda March 14, 2011, 8:42 am

    Thank you for the tip! I am going to pick up some iodine next time we’re out. I cannot believe the extent to what the people in Japan are going through! And now they have an erupting volcano on top of the rest! It’s just unfathomable!

  • Milehimama March 14, 2011, 9:58 am

    The good thing about the providone-iodine is that it’s not a uni-tasker, as it were. You can still use it to disinfect wounds and to make potable water even if we never need it for a nuclear accident.

  • Sherry C. March 14, 2011, 9:58 am

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate the dosages and details. We ordered some tablets last night. Lots of sites are sold out. I plan to pick up the topical too just in case (mainly b/c my kids have trouble swallowing pills). My husband and I are still in the beginning stages (or so we feel) of preparedness, and I very much appreciate the posts you write on that topic. You are so thorough…just like I like it. :-)

  • Birdie March 21, 2011, 8:31 pm

    Thanks for the post! I hadn’t really thought about the radiation problem drifting our way.

  • janet hyde July 11, 2012, 7:51 pm

    found your site while doing some investigating about the present condition of the Fukushima nuclear plant #4. i understand that now scientist are saying that the chances of a strong earthquake in that area are 70% likely to occur this year. I will definitely get the potassium iodide very soon. Thank you for your info.. Have you heard that high doses of Vitamin C are also effective against radiation?

  • Milehimama July 11, 2012, 9:58 pm

    I haven’t heard that. The iodine or potassium iodide is only effective against radioactive Iodine 131- it is not effective against other forms of radiation, so be aware of that.

    On the one hand, Vitamin C supports your immune response and also contributes to healthy skin- a barrier against radiation. But on the other hand, Vit. C is water soluble, so if you take a high dose it will be flushed from your body. It’s always a good idea to be as healthy as you can be, that’s a good defense against all kinds of disasters and irritations, though.


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Desperately thrifty mom of 10, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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