In 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 to be distributed among residents in the vicinity.
What is a radiation emergency?
- These are unplanned or accidental events that create radio-nuclear hazard 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 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, according to the World Health Organisation, the bigger risk is inhaling it.
- Internal exposure, or irradiation, occurs when radioactive iodine enters the body and accumulates in the thyroid gland.
- 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 taken a few hours before or soon after radiation exposure ensure that non-radioactive iodine in the medicine is absorbed quickly to make the thyroid “full”.
- Because KI contains so much non-radioactive iodine, the thyroid becomes full and cannot absorb any more iodine – either stable or radioactive – for the next 24 hours.
- But KI pills are preventive only and cannot reverse any damage done by radiation to the thyroid gland.
- Once thyroid gland absorbs radioactive iodine, those exposed are at a high risk of developing thyroid cancer.
Is the method fool-proof?
- Anti-radiation pills do not provide 100% protection.
- The effectiveness of KI also depends on how much radioactive iodine gets into the body and how quickly it is absorbed in the body
- Also, the pills are not meant for everybody. They are recommended for people under 40 years of age.
- While it can protect the thyroid against radioactive iodine, it cannot protect other organs against radiation contamination.
Source: Indian Express
Previous Year Question
Q.1) The function of heavy water in a nuclear reactor is to (2011)
- Slow down the speed of neutrons
- Increase the speed of neutrons
- Cool down the reactor
- Stop the nuclear reaction