I have the pills. At the moment, they are in my kitchen cabinet, where I keep the Tylenol and the Mylanta. I am thinking, though, of moving them to the locked drawer in my bedroom, or maybe even carrying them wherever I go. I will send a supply to camp with the boys, but I haven’t yet brought myself to inform the camp nurse. I think that’s because I tend to lower my voice when I talk about these pills, as if they were illegal, which they are not, or valuable, which they one day might be, or discomforting, which they definitely are.
They come in blister packs of 14, accompanied by directions that sound like something out of an overly wordy science-fiction film. ”Thank you for your order of IOSAT brand of potassium iodide,” the leaflet says, explaining that those in the know call it by its scientific shorthand, KI. It’s the first F.D.A.-approved ”radiation blocking agent” being sold to the general public for protection in an emergency; it prevents the absorption of radioactive material that can cause cancer, particularly in children. ”Nuclear plants make tempting targets,” it continues. ”The destruction of one would spread radiation for hundreds of miles, threatening cancer to anyone without immediate access to KI. Millions of people would need it but would be unable to get it in time.”
Odds are I would be one of those millions. The Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., is about 20 miles from my house, and data from Chernobyl show that a radiation plume can cause thyroid cancer much farther downwind than that. Chernobyl also taught us that potassium iodide, taken just before or shortly after radiation exposure, can sharply decrease the odds of thyroid cancer. (It does nothing to prevent other risks of radiation, but I’ve chosen not to dwell on that.) READ MORE