Who should take iodine tablets?
Whether or not a person should take iodine tablets in the case of a nuclear accident is dependent on the person’s age and location at the time of the accident.
A decision as to which areas might require the administration of iodine tablets after an accident in a nuclear power plant will be made depending on the area’s distance to the plant and the direction in which the radioactive cloud is travelling.
Computer based dispersion models for severe accidents in nuclear power plants show that the intake of iodine tablets in particular for children may also be necessary in a range of over 100 km from the plant. This radius will be significantly smaller near reactors used for research purposes, as there is a lower potential of radioactive iodine being released.
Detailed information on the distribution of iodine tablets are available from your public emergency response authority.
Children and adolescents are the main target group for the administration of iodine tablets because of the development and sensitivity of their thyroid. Their body is in a growth phase and needs considerably more thyroid hormones than an adult, in order to control vital functions (including growth itself). A child’s thyroid is therefore considerably more active and absorbs distinctly more iodine than an adult’s. In addition, the thyroid of a child is considerably smaller than in adults. Hence, the absorption of radioactive iodine by a child results in a considerably higher exposure of the infantine thyroid tissue than it would in an adult.
From approximately the 12th week of pregnancy, unborn babies also absorb iodine in their thyroid. Pregnant women can therefore protect their child from possible consequences of radioactive iodine by taking iodine tablets. During the breast feeding period iodine is dispensed in various amounts into the breast milk. However, as these amounts are not sufficient to ensure iodine blockade in the breast-fed child, iodine tablets should also be given to newborns and infants.
The age group of 18 to 45- year-olds is less susceptible to radiation induced thyroid cancer than children and teenagers. Therefore, it may happen that children are encouraged to take iodine tablets but not adults. The best thing to do is to follow the advice given by the authorities.
Those aged 45 years and older should refrain from taking iodine tablets, according to the recommendations of the German Commission on Radiological Protection. The risk of thyroid metabolism dysfunctions increases with age. This so called functional autonomy increases the risk iodine tablets´ side effects. Additionally, as people get older the risk of developing thyroid cancer caused by ionizing radiation considerably decreases.
The authorities also keep a special contingent of iodine tablets for the emergency staff and other support organisations.