What, Me Worry?

Concerns about the safety of the Indian Point Energy Center, the nuclear plant closest to New York City, are not new.  Nor is the government’s unwillingness to be prepared.

In 2006, the environmental group, Riverkeeper, sued the plant for failing to notify the government of a radiation leak that entered the Hudson River.  Tons of highly toxic nuclear waste is still stored at the facility, an inviting target for a terrorist attack.  It’s no surprise that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission still ranks Indian Point the Number 1 site in the nation in terms of potential danger to the public.  And, there has been no change in the findings of a 1997 Brookhaven National Lab Report claims, which found that a nuclear emergency could cause up to 143,000 cancer deaths, cost more than $566 billion to the economy, and make an area up to 2,790 square miles around the plant uninhabitable.

Unfortunately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission continues to argue there’s no reason for concern, even though we now know an Al Qaeda operative was able to wander around nuclear facilities in the Northeast for months.

When it comes to the safety of New York, apparently denial is still the best policy.

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That’s A Whole Lot of Kelp, Fella.

Some self-appointed experts claim that instead of taking KI, it’s far more practical and convenient for people at risk from exposure to radioactive iodine to protect themselves simply by taking a dietary supplement product containing kelp.  Well, let’s see how smart these experts really are?

For adults, the FDA recommends a daily dose of 130 milligrams of potassium iodide for radiation protection.  On the other hand, a kelp supplement tablet at GNC contains 150 micrograms of iodine, which is the standard nutritional dose.  That’s micrograms, not milligrams.  Since there are 1,000 micrograms in one milligram, one would have to consume 666 kelp tablets a day to get an equivalent dose.  666 tablets a day as opposed to a single KI pill.  Now that’s practical and convenient.

And don’t forget the warnings on the kelp product.  Consumers are limited to only one tablet a day, and the label cautions against use if you are pregnant, nursing, or are taking a prescribed iodine medication or have a known sensitivity to iodine or hyperthyroidism.  And kelp nutritional products are not approved for pharmaceutical use or manufactured in accordance with FDA standards for pharmaceutical products.

What about cost?  666 kelp supplement tablets would cost roughly $50.  For that amount, you could purchase enough KI to protect a family of four for a month.

When it comes to KI and kelp, be careful about self-appointed experts.  KI remains the most effective, practical, and economical protection against radioactive iodine contamination.  And, it’s FDA approved.

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Concerns about the possible threat to plant safety, after it was learned an Al Qaeda sympathizer worked at several nuclear facilities in the United States, were validated in a recently released IG report.  According to the report, Shariff Mobley, who was arrested early this year during a roundup of Al Qaeda sympathizers in Yemen, worked at six nuclear facilities between 2002 and 2008 and had unsupervised access throughout the plants.

This dangerous lapse in plant security was detailed in a report prepared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Inspector General, following an audit request from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman William Owens (D-NY).  Unfortunately, several key portions of the report have been withheld from public release because they reveal ongoing security vulnerabilities at nuclear facilities. Acknowledging the Commission’s mistakes, the IG recommended that the agency conduct more frequent screening of employees, improve training to encourage the reporting of suspicious incidents, and allow the NRC access to the nation’s terrorist watch-list.

One has to wonder – why weren’t these steps already being taken?

A copy of the report can be found at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/insp-gen/2010/oig-10-a-21-redacted.pdf.

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Al Qaeda may already have detailed information about security at American nuclear power plants.  Sharib Mobley, an American citizen and New Jersey native, worked at six nuclear facilities in New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania between 2002 and 2008 before leaving the United States and moving to Yemen.  He was arrested there in a round-up of Al Qaeda suspects.  According to a report by the Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Mobley had access to the interior of the plants and was able to move around the facilities unescorted. Individuals with his level of clearance are supposed to undergo rigorous background checks, but his vetting failed to reveal his affiliation with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical cleric in Yemen, who has been linked to several terrorist plots and has called for attacks on the United States. Additionally, Mobley was known to have made comments to fellow workers that all non-Muslims were infidels.  Much of the IG report, which was requested by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has not been made public because it revealed “security vulnerabilities” at existing nuclear plants, according to the New York Times. Following his arrest, Mobley allegedly killed a guard and wounded another while trying to escape from the prison hospital.

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According to Time Magazine, two nuclear power plants underwent emergency shot down yesterday.  Apparently, a transformer exploded at the Indian River plant, which is only 35 miles from New York City.  Officials claim no radioactive materials leaked.  Minutes later, the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant shut down after plant employees found radioactive water seeping from a leaky pipe. The NRC, which continues to claim that all nuclear plants in the United States are accident proof, called the emergency shut downs a “complete coincidence.”

Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it’s hardly reassuring news for those who live downwind of nuclear plants.  And it’s not exactly comforting for the millions of Americans who remain at risk because the NRC continues to block the stockpiling of KI.  How many warnings do these people need?

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Nuclear Lifeboat

In 1894, the British Board of Trade imposed regulations requiring all vessels over 10,000 tons to carry at least 16 lifeboats for passenger and crew protection. Eighteen years later, when the 46,000 ton Titanic left on its maiden voyage, it carried 20 boats—more than required by law but only enough for about 52% of those on board. A few days later, 1500 people drowned.

British officials, scurrying to protect their reputations, defended the lack of lifeboats by noting that there was broad expert agreement that the ship was unsinkable. They enumerated Titanic’s numerous technical advances: the sophisticated system of water-tight doors, the innovative double hull design, and the world’s most modern wireless equipment. The government had done all that needed to be done to prevent sinking, they argued. Low tech wooden lifeboats would only increase passenger anxiety and clearly seemed unnecessary. Yet by modern standards, the absence of a simple back-up in case the sophisticated technology should ever fail, would be considered unthinkable.

Well, maybe not.

Today, there are over 100 operating nuclear power reactors in the United States. Each contains enough radioactivity to threaten millions of people with thyroid cancer in the event of an accidental or terrorist-related release. But experts who work in the industry assure us that an accident is nearly impossible given the sophisticated and highly complex safety controls, redundant systems, and three feet of concrete that protects the plants.

However, should the unexpected occur, there is little in place to protect the public, even though a simple, effective, and inexpensive back-up does exist. It’s a pharmaceutical called potassium iodide (KI), which, in the FDA’s words, “can be used [to] provide safe and effective protection against thyroid cancer caused by irradiation.” Like the Titanic’s lifeboats, KI is the simple final defense in case everything else fails. And like the lifeboats, KI has been ignored.

Stockpiling KI is not a new idea. American scientists recommended it in the 1950’s, cold-war era Soviet military and civilian defense programs depended on it, and in 1986 it was used extensively following the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Its benefits were unmistakable. Those who received KI were protected. But in irradiated areas for hundreds of miles downwind of the plant—where the drug was not distributed—thyroid cancer rose to epidemic levels. In one area “the use of KI was credited with permissible iodine content (less than 30 rad) in 97% of the evacuees tested” the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has reported, pointing out that “thousands of measurements” demonstrated that radiation levels “were lower than would have been expected had this prophylactic measure not been taken.” In Poland, the government distributed KI to every child, and that country, alone among the nations in the region, suffered no cancer from Chernobyl.

Yet in the US today, nuclear power plants keep only enough on hand for their own workers and for people who live within 10 miles of the plants. Even the National Guard and other “first responder” groups lack the KI needed to protect those who are supposed to protect the rest of us.

It’s hard to understand why. At a yearly cost of pennies per pill, money can’t be the problem. And given the plans for 40 new nuclear reactors, the potential threat we face from Iranian and North Korean weapons, or the almost daily warnings about nuclear terrorism or suitcase bombs, it’s hard not to view KI as a prudent response to unstable world conditions.

Yet our government ignores KI. Despite the conclusion by the US National Academy of Science that KI should be available to everyone at risk, US officials tend to disguise the problem by suggesting that radiation emergencies are local events which can be dealt with by simply evacuating anyone living within 10 miles of the release. It’s a soothing notion that unfortunately overlooks the fact that, as the NRC has noted, “[At Chernobyl] the vast majority of the thyroid cancers were diagnosed among those living more than 50 km (31 miles) from the site.”

It’s a position that is more than foolish. It’s dangerous. Chernobyl demonstrated that a serious radiation release would affect millions of people, contaminate thousands of square miles, and cause thousands of cancers, almost all of which would be thyroid related. If the predicted terrorist catastrophe or power plant accident occurs, how will Homeland Security Officials explain the absence of KI in schools, hospitals, and in any city more than a few miles from the release point?

Will they claim we didn’t need “lifeboats”?

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Is Your Family Worth $6?

What can you buy today for $6?

a) a Big Mac Combo meal
b) a footlong and soda at Subway
c) a beer at a baseball game
d) your family’s safety

$6 is all it costs to protect a family of four for a week.  If there’s a nuclear accident or terrorist attack, and a radioactive cloud is headed your way – KI (potassium iodide) tablets can protect your family from radioactive iodine.  And these tablets, which are FDA approved, last for 10 years.  So, what’s more important – another burger or your children’s future?

To learn more about KI, and what you can do to get prepared,  visit and join: http://www.facebook.com/pages/KI-the-pill-that-could-literally-save-you-from-a-Nuclear-Blast

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

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