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For those in Japan: Protecting yourself from nuclear radiation. What you can do.


Mar 13, 2011

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor (福島第一原発)in Fukushima Prefecture has seriously malfunctioned. The Tokyo government announced on the 15th that levels of radiation in Shinjuku-ward were at their peak as high as 21 times the normal levels but that it is not at a level where imminent physical harm is even a possibility. Whether that’s within a safe range or not, I don’t know. It may simply be a very small increase in the risk of cancer, as one person asserts, like smoking a cigarette. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has moved its ships and aircraft away from the quake-stricken Japanese nuclear power plant after discovering low-level radioactive contamination.

Japanese television was reporting that at least three residents among 90 tested showed excess exposure to radiation. If you are in Japan, and the situation worsens, there are some things you can do protect yourself from nuclear radiation. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a a useful posting here, if the link won’t open for you. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/emergencyfaq.asp

This is the CDC’s guide to the use of iodine tablets, which are difficult to find in Japan but they are sold in some stores. Supposedly they are available around many military bases.  In Japanese it’s ヨウ化カリウム (potassium iodide). The Japanese government is planning to distribute them close to the reactor area. Some multi-vitamins have potassium iodide (from kelp) in them and at a level that is just enough to be the daily requirement. They might be worth taking. Generally, it will list on the supplement as iodine (as potassium iodide). Some will credit the material as coming from kelp. The average adult should have 150 mcgs of iodine for a healthy thyroid gland as the percent daily values for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. There is one supplement available from amazon.co.jp which contains ample portions and seems relatively benign. The website says that it will be back in stock on the 24th of March. They also note that the maker is donating part of their sales to earthquake relief.  Here’s a picture if you can find some locally. Once again, please talk a physician or someone with medical knowledge about the pros and cons of taking it in addition to your daily diet.

A supplement containing potassium iodide which may be useful in preventing effects from exposure to radiation.

If you cannot speak or read Japanese, please show the following photo to the pharmacy close to you and try to find something containing potassium iodide. Use the pills with caution, and only if it appears that you are at risk to exposure. You should take them proactively. I don’t think taking a multi-vitamin containing potassium iodide would hurt you and may be a reasonable preventive measure. I’m not an expert on nuclear radiation, so please read the CDC faq on radiation emergencies before ingesting pure potassium iodide.

It is one of the worst times in Japan and it is bringing out the best in people. Even the yakuza are chipping in, with the Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai opening their offices as shelters and sending supplies to the reactor site.

Many stores in Japan also sell emergency supply kits (防災キット)which may or may not contain tablets to deal with radiation poisoning. Update: This was posted in the comments but from my limited knowledge of the problem, it’s accurate. “It should also be noted that while flooding your system with iodine will minimize absorption of radioactive iodine – which will otherwise be absorbed into your system, emitting radiation that may kill you – this will not prevent you from absorbing radiation in other ways. The CDC page does mention this, but I think it is very important to emphasize it in case people who do not recall their science classes develop the mistaken belief that as long as they take the pill everything is OK.” I’ve been told that a doctor’s prescription is required to get the tablets and at this point in time, taking them may be more harmful than not taking them.

This is a link to an official geiger counter in Japanese and the same one translated into English for Northern Japan and affected areas . There is a link to an amateur geiger counter in Tokyo in Koto-ward available here. It was made by a science geek with a kit so its reliability is questionable but it’s better than nothing. The normal levels for radiation in Tokyo should be between 10 to 20cpm according to the poster. Due to the rolling black-outs in Tokyo the counter may freeze or be inaccessible at some hours.Good luck and our best wishes to every one in Japan from all of us at the JSRC. For making donations please see previous post. I’m not a nuclear scientist so I can’t tell you what the readings mean. If someone can offer a good explanation of how to read them, it would be appreciated.

iodine tablets for prevention of radiation poisoning. stocked in some pharmacies in Kanagawa Prefecture.

32 thoughts on “For those in Japan: Protecting yourself from nuclear radiation. What you can do.”
  1. Good point. It should also be noted that while flooding your system with iodine will minimize absorption of radioactive iodine – which will otherwise be absorbed into your system, emitting radiation that may kill you – this will not prevent you from absorbing radiation in other ways.

    The CDC page does mention this, but I think it is very important to emphasize it in case people who do not recall their science classes develop the mistaken belief that as long as they take the pill everything is OK.

  2. With the recent situation regarding National Geographic Television’s lack of journalistic integrity, I hope people are paying attention to just how much sensationalized, fear-mongering garbage is being vomited out by several supposedly reputable media outlets around the world regarding Fukushima’s nuclear situation.

    Giant headlines of “nuclear explosion”, “meltdown imminent”, pairing headlines of that nature with images of oil refineries that burst into flame after the earthquake, trotting out a gynaecologist to give his expert opinion of why this nuclear plant is in critical condition and the resulting radioactive explosion will cover everyone in deadly radiation if it were critical and if it were exploding. The actual disaster and the actual damage Japan sustained getting pushed aside because this story has the word “nuclear” in it. It’s beyond ridiculous.

    1. Fear mongering hyena journalism is rapidly becoming the norm in an attention to get the attention of people for a second. The news that might happen seems more interesting to them than the news of what has definitely happened. Speculative news is probably easier to do than actual boring fact checked concrete relating of information.

  3. Yeah, it’s an unfortunately situation. People are looking for answers, but when they find sensational headlines and pass them on to their friends, it just creates unnecessary anguish for others. I was out with a 23 year-old lady last night who couldn’t stop crying because of all the scary updates and speculation coming across her phone.

    Unfortunately there still a lot of unanswered questions, and Japan’s nuclear industry has not exactly been renowned for openness and transparency.which makes it hard for those of us who are attempting to check the facts and accuracy of what they read.

    One informative and insightful article I found here:

    Also the IAEA facebook page:

  4. What are these credible sources who say radiation is detected in Tokyo. If they are credible, why not name them?

    1. If you’re a journalist and you’re given something on background and asked not to attribute it, you have to honor that. I’ve written as much as I can. Read the post and the links.
      Make the decision yourself as to whether it’s credible or not. I wouldn’t post it if I didn’t believe there was a risk worth addressing and with some information on what it is possible to do to minimize damage from even minute amounts of radiation exposure. Better to be safe than sorry.

  5. The most effective way to get iodine into your system if potassium iodide is not readily available is to consume kelp tablets. Alternately, you can eat other seaweed, such as Wakame and Nori in quantity.

  6. This is the source of those three in ninety people who were exposed to radiation:


    Saying “Japan”, coupled with “trace amounts of radiation detected in Tokyo” is very vague and may give people the wrong impression that the power plant situation is somehow spreading radiation throughout the country, which it cannot. The amount of radiation people were exposed to before evacuating Fukushima was not enough to cause them harm. People even farther away than that are at very little potential risk.

  7. Better safe than sorry of course, but in the face of so many news outlets heavily exaggerating the situation in Fukushima, people must also take care to not overreact or worry unnecessarily, especially with so much flood and quake damage to concentrate on.

  8. It is worth remembering that prevailing weather conditions are blowing any released radioactive particles, as a result of venting the steam, north and east over the Pacific and areas already affected by the tsunami not towards Tokyo. Perhaps that doesn’t effect “background” radiation levels. It is also worth noting that the reactors are encased in thick steal, which, in theory, should protect the environment from radiation even in a “meltdown”. Considering the Russians are monitoring changes in radiation levels perhaps I’m overly optimistic. As always what they say is happening and what is happening could be very different.

  9. @Bocc, you assume they are telling the truth.

    1) TEPCO has a horrible track record for both safety, honesty and transparency:

    2) governments have a poor track record for truth and accuracy with regards to these kinds of incidents

    “I covered both TMI [three milei island] from 1979 through the 1980s and Chernobyl from 1986 on. Based on my personal experience, here are some guidelines when viewing reading about what has been transpiring in Japan.

    First, don’t accept anything at face value, particularly information and opinion offered by government and industry officials. The immediate industry and government response at TMI was a tissue of misstatements, misunderstandings, and, in some cases, outright lies. (see link for the rest:

  10. Jake,

    I have alot of respect for your journalistic integrity after reading Tokyo Vice as well as the JSR site. As a confused Tokyo resident and primarily english speaker, the sources im relying on are bbc, nhk world and random facebook/twitter feeds (all of which are havens for misinformation and hyperbole). My question is, what are you doing right now knowing this info? I have quite a few friends who have packed bags and headed out of the country.

  11. @Max

    I am making a few assumptions, but trusting them is relative. I didn’t know about TEPCO’s past cover-ups, but this seems like a drastically different situation and even these guys aren’t likely to risk people’s lives even if they aren’t divulging all the facts, right? That is my first assumption. 😛

    My second assumption is true or not, as far as I know, the press conferences they’ve been giving are the closest source to what’s going on in there, which is where everyone else is getting their information before exaggerating or outright making things up to report. So to me, they are relatively the most trustworthy, however far that goes.

    My third assumption is I’ve been following a message board discussing this disaster in addition to the news since about half an hour after the big earthquake struck. There’s a few people on there who either work in similar nuclear plants in America or at least have read up on them as a hobby or something. They’ve demonstrated enough knowledge of the subject that I’m personally not concerned they’re making things up on the internet, despite my complete ignorance of nuclear energy. Much of what they’ve been saying about this situation has closely reflected what’s being reported by TEPCO and Japanese news, although they have been adding it’s impossible to be absolutely certain since they’re not on site there.

    It doesn’t seem there’s any harm in popping an iodine pill (depending on supply levels) and it seems even some evacuated Japanese have been saying they don’t trust the government enough to move back to Fukushima once the plants are under control, but unless you live in the area I am still highly skeptical there is any danger of radiation, especially as far away as Tokyo.

  12. Bocc Kob-san,
    Take a little time and look up past TEPCO cover-ups. Here’s the basic problem. In Japan, if you screw up on the job you can be arrested and prosecuted for criminal negligence in the pursuit of professional activities. This is called 業務上過失死傷 (gyomujokashitsushisho).
    The bad thing about this is that it can cause executives to be more concerned about covering up evidence so they don’t go to jail rather than releasing all information and helping the investigators determine what went wrong.
    Unfortunately, many people put their own profit and well-being way ahead of the lives of others. There is a an incentive for cover-up on the TEPCO side: nobody in the company wants to go to jail.

  13. I don’t doubt people used to covering things up might even do it by reflex, but this seems like a different situation to me. Thanks in part to all the attention the world media is stirring up, there’s probably going to be extensive investigations regardless of how they insist things aren’t so bad. This is also apparently the first emergency of this sort they’ve had in Japan, on top of a record earthquake and following tsunami. This will be looked at and examined long after the media and general public loses interest. I would’ve figured they have enough “outs” as far as responsibility goes even if they gave full disclosure of the situation (which I doubt they are, to reduce panic among citizens if nothing else).

    This is all just my personal reasoning though.


    This is a message for all nuclear experts / scientists and politicians all-over -the-world to take their responsibility soon as an obligation tot the common people in Japan.

    The following is necessary with joint-forces of industrial states all over the world.

    To help Japan counter a major catastrophe by

    mobilising neigbour states and by swift airplanes from abroad delivering the next auxiliaries:

    1. massive giant explosive-neutral nitrogen-cooling devices

    2. giant diesel and solar aggregates.

    3. most modern mechanical pumping-devices

  15. i think what has hapened to my home is terrible that is why i would suggest if you are on the area of the radiation to leave and come here it is good offers (sorry english is not good)

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