Why do people take iodine pills after Chernobyl is blown up?

Science

The HBO mini-series “Chernobyl” Soviet nuclear physics Ulan Homyuk (consisting of the character Emily Watson) realized that near the release of large amounts of radioactive material and iodine pills immediately appeared. Then he encouraged other people to meet to do the same. So, why is this pill? How is a simple element like iodine protecting against radiation?

The short answer is there is no direct anti-radiation effect, but it can provide indirect protection. Iodine does not eliminate flying neutrons or radioactive dust from drinking water. However, this changes the behavior of your body in a way that can reduce the risk of radioactive substances. This is how it works:

Under normal circumstances, your body really wants iodine. Your thyroid needs chemicals, and without iodine, the thyroid cannot produce the hormones it normally produces. People with severe iodine deficiency develop an thyroid gland or enlarged goiter. Very young children with iodine deficiency can even develop mental disabilities, according to the American Thyroid Association. In the US and other parts of the world, iodine is added to table salt to avoid this problem. [5 strange things you don’t know about Chernobyl]

But iodine, like all primitives, occurs in “isotopes” or different elemental versions. Each iodine isotope has the same number of protons (53), but the number of neutrons varies. Naturally, the earth only has one iodine isotope: iodine-127 with 53 protons, 74 neutrons, and radioactivity that can be ignored. However, when uranium atoms enter the nucleus of a nuclear reactor, they are divided into smaller atoms, especially iodine-131.

The difference between iodine-127 and iodine-131 is small, only four neutrons. However, iodine-131 is radioactive which emits neutrons and decomposes quickly with a half-life of only 8 days, which means that half will remain after that time. Your body cannot distinguish between these two isotopes, and your thyroid will absorb as much iodine-131 as iodine-127. Once absorbed, iodine sits on your body, emits radiation to the surrounding tissue and damages DNA. In theory, large doses of iodine, satisfy the body’s hunger for these substances and prevent absorption of iodine-131 after the substance enters.

It is best to act quickly. Jod-131 is “very mobile” in its environment, said Katherine Huff, an engineer at nuclear reactors and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne Professor Science to live for the previous article. The substance enters the water where the plant picks it up and transmits it to animals. After radioactive iodine is released, it is very difficult to eliminate it until it decays. [Infographics: The Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years later]

The nuclear accident (fortunately) is still very rare so there are not many convincing studies about the results of the radioactive Jodex position. But after Chernobyl, the most significant release of radioactive iodine, there was an increase in thyroid cancer among children in the affected area.

According to a report published in April 2000 in the journal “Assessment of endocrine diseases and metabolism” at the rate of thyroid cancer in Ukraine in children under 15 years increased by less than 1 in 1 million 3 1 million. In Belarus they reach 30 per 1 million. And in the Gomel region, Belarus, one of the most affected areas, thyroid cancer has reached 100 per million in children. (Chernobyl is only 12 miles from the Belorusia border.) Only four years after the incident, the cancer rate increased, but children after the explosion developed thyroid cancer at normal levels.

It is unclear to what extent iodine tablets save lives, write the authors. Potassium iodide spreads after an accident, as noted by the author, but this effort “began only a few days after the accident and its use was very volatile.”

People living in the area are also susceptible to poisoning by radioactive iodine, write the researchers.

“The lack of mild iodine in the Chernobyl region can … affect radiation doses,” they wrote, “increasing the amount of iodine that accumulates and increasing the size of the glands secreted, and possibly, changing the effects of radiation on yourself.”

Although it may still be unclear how many life-saving iodine tablets can save after a nuclear accident but common practice in US pills people plant live near nuclear power. In an emergency, security officers instruct people in the affected area to take pills in accordance with guidelines issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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