Nuclear fears spur call for iodine pills

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Norwegian authorities issued an unusual warning on Tuesday. They claim the risk of nuclear accidents has risen, and they’re asking communities and pharmacies all over the country to stock up on iodine pills to help fend off cancer following any spread of radiation.

Potassium iodide can be taken in the form of pills, and public health officials in Norway want to have plenty of them on hand in case of any nuclear accidents. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the state health directorate (Helsedirektoratet) is worried that more nuclear-powered submarines and other vessels are sailing along the country’s long coastline. Nuclear power facilities in neighbouring countries and Norway’s own nuclear research sites are ageing and thus more vulnerable to accidents, while the constant threat of terror also boosts the threat of radiation.

“Iodine tablets (potassium iodide, or Kaliumjodid Recip in Norwegian) can hinder cancer of the thyroid in children and youth,” Svein Lie of the health directorate told NRK. “But then it must be taken right away or at least within four hours after being exposed to radiation.” It’s critical, he said, that supplies be made  easily accessible and readily available.

Iodine pills have long been stored in large quantities in all municipalities in Northern Norway and around Bergen, because of the risks posed by nuclear-powered vessels along the northern coast and those visiting Norway’s naval base at Haakonsvern. The pills have also been stored in Skedsmo northeast of Oslo and in Halden, because Norway’s two nuclear reactors used for research purposes are located nearby.

Now health authorities want to be sure iodine pills are available all over the country. Lie said they’ll be for sale in all pharmacies but health officials also want municipalities to order them from Norsk Medisinaldepot (the Norwegian medicine storage facility) in Oslo and have them on hand as well.

“We want to sure the pills are near the people in case there’s any need for them,” Lie told NRK. Norway was, for example, hit hard by radiation fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the 1980s.

Ole Harbitz, director of the state radiation agency Statens strålevern, leads Norway’s Kriseutvalget (Crisis Commission) set up in connection with nuclear preparedness. He and the commission agree that the danger for nuclear accidents has increased.

“Nuclear power plants all over Europe have aged and the risk of serious accidents has risen,” Harbitz told NRK, while also citing more nuclear-powered maritime traffic along the coast. “That motivates us to have good levels of preparedness here at home.”

The state’s warning of radiation comes, meanwhile, just as criticism is also rising over Norway’s refusal to sign a UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons because of its membership in NATO, which relies on them as part of its defense strategy. Norwegian government officials have been strongly criticized and even embarrassed over their refusal to support a nuclear weapons ban, not least in connection with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo over the weekend to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund