As Threat of Nuclear Attack Looms, a New Hot Commodity

Demand surges in Europe, prices spike for iodine, potassium iodide pills amid Russia-Ukraine conflict
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 10, 2022 11:25 AM CST
Europeans Rush to Buy Anti-Radiation Pills
This March 15, 2011, file photo shows bottles of potassium iodide on the shelf of a pharmacy in Plano, Texas.   (AP Photo/Richard Matthews)

With Russia's nuclear deterrent forces on high alert, and a wary eye cast upon the situation at Ukraine's Chernobyl and other local nuclear power plants, there's a new hot commodity in Europe: iodine and potassium iodide pills that residents hope would mitigate the effects of radiation poisoning in the event of a nuclear attack. Per Bloomberg, pharmacies in Norway, Finland, and Luxembourg have had their shelves cleared of such pills, while in Belgium, almost 30,000 locals rushed to collect free pills being offered nationwide, reports Fortune.

In those Euro establishments that still have stock, prices have surged, in some cases to almost three times the regular cost, reports CBS News. A product price-tracking site notes that on Amazon, a bottle of 180 potassium iodide pills that was $30 a few weeks ago is now close to $70. But while it's understandable to want to stock up on such protection—the CDC notes the pills can help prevent the sensitive thyroid gland from sucking up radioactive iodine in the event of a nuclear attack, perhaps fending off cancer down the road—there are caveats.

For instance, KXTV notes that while OTC iodine pills help overload the thyroid with natural iodine so that there's no more room for iodine that's radioactive, the pills wouldn't help with other toxic chemicals from nuclear radiation, including cobalt and cesium. Plus, individuals very close to the source of the attack would likely die from the explosion itself. The CDC also notes there are health risks with taking potassium iodide and should only be taken in emergencies when advised by public health officials. So how can people in Europe more effectively prepare as this new nuclear threat looms? "Take the more positive action to distance ... from the site of the detonation," advises Jerrold Bushberg of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. (More radiation stories.)

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