Zurich`s nuclear risk and your iodide tablets

Contents

Introduction

Zurich`s nuclear risks include the Leibstadt nuclear power station which is 45 minutes away from Zurich. It is now back in operation after a recent shutdown due to a technical fault and approval from the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI).

Details of the technical fault were not disclosed. The public information release by the operator merely made mention of “a technical fault in the non-nuclear part of the power plant.”

Following the shut down on last Saturday, ENSI, were quick to state that the protection of the population and the environment had been guaranteed at all times.

The reactor went through a “quick shutdown” process and the measurement systems and sensors at or close to the plant did not show any increase in radioactivity,

What makes the shutdown interesting is that there were two shutdowns last year in April and May 2019 due to technology issues.

The status of the Liebstadt nuclear power plant became a little better understood after an investigation and Federal report concluded in August 2019 the site had a number of problems including some staffing issues.

Many Zurich residents hear about the issues second or third hand. Most know little about the problems or the plans to decommission plants because ENSI reports very little in English.

It will be interesting to see what happens after the latest technical breakdown and joint Federal and ENSI investigation into the operator.

Zurich locals have to live with the Liebstadt power plant problem until it is closed in 2045. It is why in 2014 we all received our batch of iodide tablets (pictured above).

The residents of Bern are not quite in the same position because Mühleberg was permanently switched off just before Christmas 2019.

The 47 year old Mühleberg nuclear power plant entered the history books as the first Swiss nuclear power reactor to be decommissioned.

By 2024 all nuclear fuel rods will have been transported to the storage facility for high-level radioactive waste in Würenlingen (30 minutes from Zurich and not far from Baden).

At the same time, Zurich residents will then get their new supply of nuclear event iodide tablets in 2024.

Common questions about the potassium iodide pills

Why are iodide tablets distributed in Zurich as a precaution?

The high-dose iodide tablets are used as a form of preventative medicine to reduce your chance of getting thyroid cancer in the event of a nuclear power incident involving the release of radioactivity.

Taken in time, they protect your thyroid gland against radioactive iodine released during a nuclear emergency.

It does this by flooding the thyroid with stable, safe iodine, which blocks the absorption of dangerous radioactive iodine.

When the warnings occur you will be told to protect yourself by taking them. This means you need to know that in the event of an incident where and how the iodine tablets can quickly be accessed.

If an event occurs a good number of people will not need hospital care because of them and this of course reduces the pressure on the medical services who will be treating the injured and dying.

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Are potassium iodide tablets a common treatment in a nuclear event?

The potassium iodide 65 AApot tablets can be compared to ThyroSafe which is the only FDA approved 65 mg.

Potassium Iodide (KI) tablet sold in the USA ( c. USD$10-12 per packet).

They are a common form of preventative care.

Who gets the free iodide tablets?

In 2004-2005, iodide tablets were only distributed within a radius of 20 kilometres ( 12.5 miles) around the Swiss nuclear power plants.

In order to improve prevention, to reduce stockpiling of pills centrally and to improve the supply to the local population.

The Federal Council decided that the 2014 distribution be sent to anyone who lived within a 50 kilometre limit ( 31 miles) of a Swiss nuclear power plant.

A full list of the 1300 city, town and villages covered under the new change including those in the Zurich canton can be found here.

Iodide tablets were sent to all of the registered population (child to pensioners) who all received 2 x 6 packs of Potassium iodide 65 AApot.

Newcomers to Zurich just need to request their vouchers and get them for free by emailing kaliumiodid-versorgung@awo.ch

How do I order my nuclear event iodide tablets?

The process is quite simple, as a resident you simply need to email kaliumiodid-versorgung@awo.ch

Inform them of your name and address and you will be sent vouchers.

Take them to the local pharmacy and the pharmacist will dispense them for free.

There is no need to purchase them which many who are new in Zurich do when they discover they need the tablets

What happens if I am at work but live somewhere else when a nuclear event in Zurich occurs?

Packages of tablets were sent in 2014 to all businesses and public institutions (including schools, child-care centres, hospitals).

In an officially declared incident the iodine tablets are distributed to you and your colleagues on site by your health and safety person or team.

The plants are to be decommissioned so why do I need tablets?

The Federal authorities decided to mitigate the post shutdown risk and not just for an event with their ageing nuclear reactors ( Breznau is the oldest in the world).

Local residents will receive the tablets until all nuclear material is removed from the sites and safely stored.

What does a box of iodide tablets contain?

Each box of Potassium Iodide 65 AApot will contain:

  • 2 blister packs of 6 x 65 mg potassium iodide tablets
  • a trilingual German, French and Italian package insert.

Each tablet blister has a form of double protection including an additional white protective film to prevent accidental ingestion by children.

The shipping package also included a brief information summary sheet in the following 8 languages:

  • Albanian
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Serbian
  • Turkish

When will the iodide tablets be replaced and what do I do with the old ones?

The potassium iodide tablets have an expiry date on the packs and are formally recalled as part of a process by the Federal authorities.

It is normally a 10 year cycle (assuming no nuclear events occur) of replacement and the authorities will inform you where to send your old tablets for correct disposal.

Who pays for the tablets? Does it come from Zurich taxpayers?

The costs of the potassium iodide tablets and their distribution are met by the operators of the Swiss nuclear power plants who are:

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When you get or have your potassium iodide pills

The packs are typically stored in bathroom cabinets together with the information sent with the packages.

You need to store them which is suitable and inaccessible to children to prevent accidental ingestion.

The cupboard or drawer needs to be dry and at room temperature. High variances in temperature may affect their effectiveness so avoid loft spaces and similar spots.

I am leaving Zurich or moving, what do I do with the potassium iodide tablets?

If you are moving locally and staying within the 50km distribution area to a Swiss nuclear power plant, keep them and take them with you to our new apartment or house.


If you are moving elsewhere or leaving the country, you can take the iodide tablets to your local pharmacy. They will arrange for the correct disposal of the tablets.

I lost my iodide tablets, what do I need to do?

If you have lost them, the tablets can be replaced really easily by visiting your local pharmacy.

The Potassium iodide 65 AApot tablets can be purchased for CHF 5.00 at the pharmacy.

Please print a copy of a picture in the post or show it to the pharmacist as a reference when asking for them.

What is potassium iodide? Can I take a spoonful of table salt or salt tablets instead?

Potassium iodide (KI) is a salt of stable (not radioactive) iodine that can help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland.

It cannot be replaced in the event of an emergency by taking common table salt or foods rich in iodine. They are no substitute for potassium iodide.

KI protects the thyroid gland from radiation injury and this gland is the part of the body that is most sensitive to radioactive iodine.

It should only be taken on the advice of the Swiss public health or emergency management officials.

There are some health risks associated with taking KI.

Potassium  iodide is precautionary and a form of preventative medicine.

It does not keep radioactive iodine from entering the body and cannot reverse the health effects caused by radioactive iodine once the thyroid is damaged.

KI (potassium iodide) only protects the thyroid, not other parts of the body, from radioactive iodine nor can it protect the body from radioactive elements other than radioactive iodine.

Zurich`s nuclear event potassium iodide tablet distribution FAQ

The thyroid gland will absorb both stable and radioactive iodine (which is usually breathed in).

Potassium iodide works as a blocker, the tablets as a thyroid tank filler. It works by shrinking the size of the thyroid gland and decreasing the amount of thyroid hormones produced.

When a person takes KI, the stable iodine in the medicine gets absorbed by the thyroid.

The tablet is quick acting and because of the dose of stable iodine, the thyroid gland becomes “full.”

It lasts for the next 24 hours but you must note that it may not give a person 100% protection against radioactive iodine.

Protection depends on on three factors.

  1. Time after contamination: The sooner a person takes KI, the more time the thyroid will have to “fill up” with stable iodine.
  2. Absorption: The amount of stable iodine that gets to the thyroid depends on how fast KI is absorbed into the blood.
  3. Dose of radioactive iodine: Minimizing the total amount of radioactive iodine a person is exposed to will lower the amount of harmful radioactive iodine the thyroid can absorb.

This can and does happen in real life, there have even been old forum posts asking “Did you take one of your tablets?” in Switzerland.

If you do take potassium iodide 65 AApot for no reason or just out of curiosity, you should be okay if you are a healthy adult with no thyroid gland problems and over 21.

Despite the high dosage of the active ingredient, the frequency of side effects is low and should be temporary.

If you experience severe or have persistent side effects, see your local doctor or call your insurance Telemed phone service for advice.

Groups at high risk are:

  • Pregnant women because there is a risk of an accidental delivery of a newborn baby or an ill child.
  • Breastfeeding mothers and young children or infants.

In such cases, try to see a physician as soon as possible after taking the KI tablet.

There are different doses of tablets to be taken by different age groups, one tablet is not for all.

This is because the thyroid glands of a fetus and of an infant are most at risk of injury from radioactive iodine.

All infants, including breast-fed infants need to be given the dosage of KI (potassium iodide) recommended for infants.

Infants (particularly newborns) should receive a the dosage as advised by the authorities because more than a single dose may lead to later problems with normal development.

Children and young adults are recommended to take the tablets even though the sensitivity level to radioactive iodine may vary with increased age.
Pregnant women must note that all forms of iodine ( stable or radioactive) cross the placenta. They should take a potassium iodide (KI) tablet to protect the growing fetus.

It is likely that together with breastfeeding women they will after the two day dose be prioritised to receive other protective action measures.

Adults especially if over 40 should take the potassium iodide when directed.

This is because low-level contamination of radioactive iodine carries a low chance of developing thyroid cancer or thyroid injury. As the adult age increases to 60 plus, the risk of side effects increases.

If you are in any doubt, please see your local Swiss medical practitioner or pharmacist who will be happy to provide you with advice.

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Zurich`s nuclear event in case of nuclear power plant emergency FAQ

The authorities will use sirens to first alert those affected by the nuclear incident.

It will be a general alarm and is a prompt to:

Ask you to listen to the radio, to listen to the instructions from the authorities.
To inform your neighbours as quickly as possible, especially the elderly or infirm.

The authorities will then use the radio and other media to communicate with residents and those who are affected.

The taking of iodine tablets (potassium iodide 65 AApot) is not necessary immediately.

The radioactivity levels are measured nationwide and only in those people in municipalities where a radioactive exposure is detected or can be expected with certainty will be told by the authorities to take the pills.

IMPORTANT

Please note that once a year, usually on the 1st Wednesday in February – a siren test is carried out across Zurich.

The alarm will be your first notice from the Swiss authorities of an incident. It is their priority to protect the population as best as they can during the radioactive emergency.

The most important measures you can take include:

  • Get indoors, do not to stay outdoors, move inside.
  • Close all windows and doors and switch off any air-conditioning or ventilation.

This prevents radioactively contaminated air from entering the building.

Listen to the radio and follow the instructions from the authorities without fail.

Follow any special announcement to take the iodine tablets (potassium iodide 65 AApot) which is separate to the alarm.

Listen to which communities are most affected by the increased radioactive contamination and act as the authorities advise.

The tablets should only be taken if officially instructed to do so.

They should be dissolved in a liquid of choice and best not taken on an empty stomach. Even if you need to quickly eat something before taking the tablet, a piece of bread or fruit, it will help.

The authorities will issue information via radio on the length the treatment period and re-iterate the dosage.

Dosage Levels (check packet information)

Adults – Take 2 tablets per day at once

Newborns (also breastfed babies of treated mothers) Up to 1 month: ¼ tablet once

Children

  • 2nd month to 3 years: ½ tablet per day
  • 4th year to 12 years: 1 tablet per day
  • over 12 years (like adults): take 2 tablets per day at once

Pregnant women and nursing mothers
2 tablets at once per day, maximum of 2 days

The necessary duration of the intake is announced by the authorities.

Plan for any emergency lasting a few days.

Restrictions do apply to pregnant women, nursing mothers and  newborns.

Important – if in doubt talk to your doctor

Taking potassium iodide tablets offers reliable and safe protection of the thyroid gland. However, their uncontrolled use should be avoided, particularly in newborns and toddlers.

Patients with rare illnesses, such as hypersensitivity to iodine or a pre-existing disease of the thyroid gland, should consult their family physician  beforehand.

The tablet blisters have a childproof protective foil on them.

This must be removed first and then you should be able to press the tablets out quite easily.

Yes and their website is naz.ch and the National Emergency Operations Centre ( NEOC) provides some information in English and key statements in:

  • French
  • Italian
  • German

The NEOC is the federal centre of expertise for exceptional incidents. It can be contacted around the clock throughout the year and is capable of stepping into action within an hour. The NEOC is a division of the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP).

The NEOC website has a small section providing you with sensor measurements which of course are subject to snowfall, heavy rain and other weather influences.

It can be found here:

 

FAQ on a variety of related topics about a nuclear event in Zurich

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It is not necessary to carry them with you at all times. If you are at another company on business or visiting when an alarm is raised.

The company you are visiting will be able to provide you with a tablet dose.

Pets such as dogs and cats are mammals. Their thyroid glands function in the same way as humans do.

The dosage level for pets is much lower than that for humans, in some cases up to 1000 times lower.

Example doses highlight the differences:

  • Adult Dog: 0.033 milligrams per kg body weight
  • Adult Cat: a millionth of a gram per kg body weight

It is not advisable to administer the potassium iodide tablets to animals, you would give them a massive overdose.

If you are interested in further information, please discuss this with your veterinarian on your next visit.

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