Irrational nuclear fears lead to potassium iodide shortages in U.S.

March 18, 2011|By Luke Broadwater

There is great fear in the world today about Japanese nuclear reactors exploding in a Chernobyl-level disaster. Citizens in Japan are scrambling to get ahold of potassium iodide, which can protect against radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland. 

Here's the rub: Companies that supply potassium iodide are experience a shortage -- a shortage caused by orders from the west coast of the United States. You didn't misread that: The west coast of the United States. 

From Business Week: Virginia-based Anbex Inc. sold out of its supply of more than 10,000 14-tablet packages on Saturday, company president Alan Morris

"Those who don't get it are crying. They're terrified," Morris told the Wall Street Journal.

"It's actually been insanity here," Deborah Fleming, co-owner of Fleming Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis County, told the Wall Street Journal

There's just one problem with all this panic: It's completely irrational. Nuclear radiation can extend around 12 miles from the point of meltdown -- not 12-friggin'-thousand miles. 

"Japan has an evacuation area of about 12 miles from the nuclear plants. Washington state is 5,000 to 6,000 miles away from Japan," Tim Church, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health, told the Wall Street Journal.

Because of the rush on potassium iodide, President Barack Obama felt the need to speak publicly Thursday about the issue. 

"Whether it's the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific, we do not expect harmful levels of radiation," Obama said. 

Do you hear that folks? Calm down. There's a tragedy going on in Japan, yes, but that radiation isn't going to affect you. Stop ordering potassium iodide. Leave the supply for people who actually need it. 

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