Explained: What are anti-radiation pills, how will they help in case of a nuclear emergency in Ukraine?

Source: The post is based on the article “Explained: What are anti-radiation pills, how will they help in case of a nuclear emergency in Ukraine?” published in Indian Express on 1st September 2022.

What is the News?

With fears of a nuclear disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant growing, the European Union has decided to pre-emptively supply 5.5 million anti-radiation pills distributed among residents in the vicinity.

What is a radiation emergency?

These are unplanned or accidental events that create radio-nuclear hazards to humans and the environment. 

Such situations involve radiation exposure from a radioactive source and require prompt intervention to mitigate the threat. Dealing with such an emergency also involves the use of anti-radiation tablets.

What are anti-radiation pills?

Potassium iodide (KI) tablets, or anti-radiation pills, are known to provide some protection in cases of radiation exposure. They contain non-radioactive iodine and can help block absorption, and subsequent concentration, of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland.

How do these anti-radiation pills work?

After a radiation leak, radioactive iodine floats through the air and then contaminates food, water and soil.

While radioactive iodine deposited during external exposure can be removed using warm water and soap, the bigger risk is inhaling it.

The thyroid gland which uses iodine to produce hormones to regulate the body’s metabolism has no way of telling radioactive from non-radioactive iodine.

Potassium iodide(KI) tablets rely on this to achieve ‘thyroid blocking’. KI pills took a few hours before or soon after radiation exposure to ensure that non-radioactive iodine in the medicine is absorbed quickly to make the thyroid “full”.

But KI pills are preventive only and cannot reverse any damage done by radiation to the thyroid gland.

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