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Potassium iodine is what is often handed out to those living near nuclear reactors to take in the event of a nuclear accident. It is to protect against dangerous radioactive iodine (and cesium) for a short time. Much mentioned is Iodine 131, with a half-life of 8 days, which still means that it stays in the environment for several months. Less mentioned is the long-lived (15.7 million year half life), and actually more dangerous, Iodine 129 spewed into air and water by nuclear reactors, and still in the environment from nuclear weapons testing and use.
potassium iodine pills
Nuclear reactors legally release radioactive iodine, including iodine 131 and 129, into the air and water, even without an accident. It is legal to put radioactive iodine, and other radioactive materials, into US and UK (sewer) drains, as well. In the US there is no limit, but rather concentrations, which allow dilution, misleadingly given as microcuries per milliliter, or one thousandth of a liter (See bottom of post).

Additionally, medical patients run around leaving radioactive trails of radioactive iodine in air and sewers, unwittingly exposing others. How much are others exposed? The NRC doesn’t even know. That’s what they are wondering. They may not know how much the nuclear reactors are emitting either, since it’s concentration and not amount.

With MRIs and ultrasound there appear few, if any, justifications for using radionuclides in medical tests or procedures.

US NRC for comment today:
Abstract:
Although most patients return to their home after receiving diagnostic or therapeutic of Iodine-131, some patients released by the licensee may stay at another location (such as a hotel) for a few days. However, the extent of this practice is unclear. The same uncertainty exists regarding patients returning to nursing homes and other institutional settings. Therefore, one of the main objectives of this study is to obtain reliable statistical data that provides good estimates of the prevalence of these practices. The second objective is to determine, by measurements, the external and internal doses received by members of the general public at hotels, nursing homes, or other institutional settings that receive treated patients immediately after their release.
” “Destinations of Released Patients Following Treatment with Iodine-131” Docket ID: NRC-2015-0102Agency: Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)”Information Collection: Destinations of Released Patients Following Treatment with Iodine-131 and Estimation of Doses to Members of the Public at Locations Other than Conventional Residences Receiving Such Patientshttp://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NRC-2015-0102-0001 https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/05/19/2015-12017/information-collection-destinations-of-released-patients-following-treatment-with-iodine-131-and

WHETHER AT HOME OR IN A HOTEL, THEY ARE POLLUTING THE SEWER SYSTEM-WASTE WATER WITH RADIOACTIVE IODINE. WITH MORE AND MORE RECYCLING OF WATER, HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE DRINKING RADIOACTIVE IODINE? (More on patient precautions, danger to the public-family members, below the nuclear effluent picture.)

THE SAME CAN BE SAID OF NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS WHICH SEND UNKNOWN QUANTITIES OF RADIO-IODINE DOWNRIVER (OR DOWN-CURRENT) AND DOWNWIND.

EVEN IF WATER WERE THOROUGHLY FILTERED FOR HUMANS, AND IT APPEARS THAT IT IS NOT, ANIMALS DO NOT GET FILTERED WATER.

The bodies of humans, plants and animals cannot distinguish radioactive iodine from non-radioactive iodine. Initially, those who are iodine deficient will uptake the radioactive iodine more quickly. However, over time we are all in trouble, as iodine 129 builds in the environment, and iodine 131 continues to be produced.

Iodine 129 has dose coefficients indicating that it is more dangerous than iodine 131, possibly because it stays in the body for longer. Both of these are legally leaked from nuclear reactors, even when there is no accident. Iodine 129, which is difficult to track in the environment, still remains from nuclear weapons testing, from decades of nuclear reactor operations, fuel processing, and in nuclear waste. Both of these can lead to thyroid damage, as well as cancer, and could be largely responsible for much of the obesity epidemic.

Radioactive Iodine is but one of the many nuclear reactor effluents to be commented upon at the US NRC by September 1st:
Reactor Effluents, Due Sep 01, 2015 11:59 PM ET Proposed Rule, Posted: 05/04/2015ID: NRC-2014-0044-0002 http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NRC-2014-0044

According to the US EPA:
Iodine-129 and iodine-131 are gaseous fission products that form within fuel rods as they fission. Unless reactor chemistry is carefully controlled, they can build up too fast, increasing pressure and causing corrosion in the rods. As the rods age, cracks or wholes may breach the rods.

Cracked rods can release radioactive iodine into the water that surrounds and cools the fuel rods. There, it circulates with the cooling water throughout the system, ending up in the airborne, liquid, and solid wastes from the reactor. From time to time, reactor gas capture systems release gases, including iodine, to the environment under applicable regulations.

Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is handled, there is a chance that iodine-129 and iodine-131 will escape into the environment. Nuclear fuel reprocessing plants dissolve the spent fuel rods in strong acids to recover plutonium and other valuable materials. In the process, they also release iodine-129 and -131 into the airborne, liquid, and solid waste processing systemhttp://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/iodine.html
Radioactive Effluents NRC or EPA drawing

Patients receiving I-131 radioiodine treatment are warned not to have sexual intercourse for one month (or shorter, depending on dose given), and women are told not to become pregnant for six months afterwards. “This is because a theoretical risk to a developing fetus exists, even though the amount of radioactivity retained may be small and there is no medical proof of an actual risk from radioiodine treatment. Such a precaution would essentially eliminate direct fetal exposure to radioactivity and markedly reduce the possibility of conception with sperm that might theoretically have been damaged by exposure to radioiodine.”[36] These guidelines vary from hospital to hospital and will depend also on the dose of radiation given. Some also advise not to hug or hold children when the radiation is still high, and a one or two metre distance to others may be recommended.[37]

I-131 will be eliminated from the body over the next several weeks after it is given. The majority of I-131 will be eliminated from the human body in 3–5 days, through natural decay, and through excretion in sweat and urine. Smaller amounts will continue to be released over the next several weeks, as the body processes thyroid hormones created with the I-131. For this reason, it is advised to regularly clean toilets, sinks, bed sheets and clothing used by the person who received the treatment. Patients may also be advised to wear slippers or socks at all times, and keep themselves physically isolated from others. This minimizes accidental exposure by family members, especially children.[38] Use of a decontaminant specially made for radioactive iodine removal may be advised. The use of chlorine bleach solutions, or cleaners that contain chlorine bleach for cleanup, are not advised, since radioactive elemental iodine gas may be released.[39 Airborne I-131 may cause a greater risk of second-hand exposure, spreading contamination over a wide area. Patient is advised if possible needs to stay in a room with a bathroom connected to limit unintended exposure to family members. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine-131

The US EPA on Radioactive Iodine (longer version):

Who discovered iodine and radioactive iodine?

In 1811, Bernard Courtois discovered natural iodine in water that was used to dissolve certain parts of seaweed ash for use. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered by Glenn T. Seaborg and John Livingood at the University of California – Berkeley in the late 1930’s.

Where do iodine-129 and iodine-131 come from?

Both iodine-129 and iodine-131 are produced by the fission of uranium atoms during operation of nuclear reactors and by plutonium (or uranium) in the detonation of nuclear weapons.

What are the properties of iodine-129 and iodine-131?

Radioactive iodines have the same physical properties as stable iodine. However, radioactive iodines decay with time [Iodine 129 has a half-life of millions of years, so it’s stupid to say that it decays with time!]

Iodine is a nonmetallic, purplish-black crystalline solid. It has the unusual property of ‘sublimation,’ which means that it can go directly from a solid to a gas, without first becoming liquid. It sublimes to a deep violet vapor at room temperature. This vapor is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat. Iodine dissolves in alcohol and in water. It melts at 236 °F.

Iodine reacts easily with other chemicals, and isotopes of iodine are found as compounds rather than as a pure elemental nuclide. Thus, iodine-129 and -131 found in nuclear facilities and waste treatment plants quickly form compounds with the mixture of chemicals present. However, iodine released to the environment from nuclear power plants is usually a gas.

Iodine-129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years; iodine-131 has a half-life of about 8 days. Both emit beta particles upon radioactive decay.

What are iodine radioisotopes used for?

Iodines are among the most widely used radionuclides, mostly in the medical field. Because of its short half-life and useful beta emission, iodine-131 is used extensively in nuclear medicine.” [It’s still around for months, so it’s dangerous for months.]

Its tendency to collect in the thyroid gland makes iodine especially useful for diagnosing and treating thyroid problems. Iodine-123 is widely used in medical imaging, and I-124 is useful in immunotherapy.

Iodine’s chemical properties make it easy to attach to molecules for imaging studies. It is useful in tracking the metabolism of drugs or compounds, or for viewing structural defects in various organs, such as the heart.

A less common isotope, iodine-125, is sometimes used to treat cancerous tissue.

Iodine-129 has little practical use, but may be used to check some radioactivity counters in diagnostic testing laboratories.

Exposure to Iodine-129 and Iodine-131

How do iodine-129 and iodine-131 get into the environment?

Iodine-129 and iodine-131 are gaseous fission products that form within fuel rods as they fission. Unless reactor chemistry is carefully controlled, they can build up too fast, increasing pressure and causing corrosion in the rods. As the rods age, cracks or wholes may breach the rods.

Cracked rods can release radioactive iodine into the water that surrounds and cools the fuel rods. There, it circulates with the cooling water throughout the system, ending up in the airborne, liquid, and solid wastes from the reactor. From time to time, reactor gas capture systems release gases, including iodine, to the environment under applicable regulations.

Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is handled, there is a chance that iodine-129 and iodine-131 will escape into the environment.

Nuclear fuel reprocessing plants dissolve the spent fuel rods in strong acids to recover plutonium and other valuable materials. In the process, they also release iodine-129 and -131 into the airborne, liquid, and solid waste processing systems. In the U.S., spent nuclear fuel is no longer reprocessed, because of concerns about nuclear weapons proliferation.

Currently, spent nuclear fuel remains in temporary storage at nuclear power plants around the country. If the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain opens, it will provide permanent disposal for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive wastes. Wherever spent nuclear fuel is stored, the short-lived iodine-131 it contains will decay away quickly and completely. However, the long-lived iodine-129 will remain for millions of years. Keeping it from leaking into the environment, requires carefully designed, long-term safeguards.

The detonation of nuclear weapons also releases iodine-129 into the environment. Atmospheric testing in the 1950’s and 60’s released radioactive iodine to the atmosphere which has disseminated around the world, and is now found at very low levels in the environment.

How do iodine-129 and iodine-131 change in the environment?

Radioactive iodine can disperse rapidly in air and water, under the right conditions. However, it combines easily with organic materials in soil. This is known as ‘organic fixation’ and slows iodine’s movement in the environment. Some soil minerals also attach to, or adsorb, iodine, which also slows its movement.

The long half-life of iodine-129, 15.7 million years, means that it remains in the environment. However, iodine-131’s short half-life of 8 days means that it will decay away completely in the environment in a matter of months. Both decay with the emission of a beta particle, accompanied by weak gamma radiation.

How do people come in contact with iodine-129 and iodine-131?

Radioactive iodine can be inhaled as a gas or ingested in food or water. It dissolves in water so it moves easily from the atmosphere into humans and other living organisms. People are exposed to I-129 from the past testing of nuclear weapons, and I-131 from nuclear power plant emissions. Some industrial facilities also emit radioactive iodine to the environment, as well as medical institutions. Radioactive iodine is usually emitted as a gas, but may contaminate liquids or solid materials as well. If a family member has been treated with I-131, you may have increased exposure to it through their body fluids.” [and breath]

How do iodine-129 and iodine-131 get into the body?

Radioactive iodine can enter the body by ingestion or inhalation. It dissolves in water so it moves easily from the atmosphere into humans and other living organisms. For example, I-129 and -131 can settle on grass where cows can eat it and pass it to humans through their milk. It may settle on leafy vegetables and be ingested by humans. Iodine isotopes also concentrate in marine and freshwater fish, which people may then eat.

Also, doctors may give thyroid patients radioactive iodine, usually iodine-131, to treat or help diagnose certain thyroid problems. The tendency of iodine to collect in the thyroid makes it very useful for highlighting parts of its structure in diagnostic images.” [It’s also why it’s damaging to the thyroid!]

Exposure from Iodine 131 (Centers for Disease Control)

What do iodine-129 and iodine-131 do once they get into the body?

When I-129 or I-131 is ingested, some of it concentrates in the thyroid gland. The rest passes from the body in urine.

Airborne I-129 and I-131 can be inhaled. In the lung, radioactive iodine is absorbed, passes into the blood stream, and collects in the thyroid. Any remaining iodine passes from the body with urine.” [It also binds to breast tissue and is used in other parts of the body, so this isn’t entirely true. It even explains that this isn’t true below!]

In the body, iodine has a biological half-life of about 100 days for the body as a whole. It has different biological half-lives for various organs: thyroid – 100 days, bone – 14 days, and kidney, spleen, and reproductive organs – 7 days. [Because Iodine 129 has a half-life of millions of years, it stays in the body the entire time, whereas Iodine 131 has a shorter actual half-life than biological half-life. This appears to be why the dose coefficients indicate that I 129 is more dangerous than I 131.]

Health Effects of Iodine-129 and Iodine-131
How can iodine-129 and iodine-131 affect people’s health?

Radioactive iodine can cause thyroid problems, and help diagnose and treat thyroid problems. Long-term (chronic) exposure to radioactive iodine can cause nodules, or cancer of the thyroid. However, once thyroid cancer occurs, treatment with high doses of I-131 may be used to treat it. Doctors also use lower doses of I-131 to treat overactive thyroids.

Low doses can reduce activity of the thyroid gland, lowering hormone production in the gland.” [Which can lead to fatigue, weight gain, and more serious problems.] “Doctors must maintain the fine balance between the risks and benefits of using radioactive iodine. On one hand, this small, additional exposure may tip the balance in favor of cancer formation. On the other, this small additional exposure can restore health by slowing an overactive thyroid and improve health conditions.

Is there a medical test to determine exposure to iodine-129 and iodine-131?

Since iodine is concentrated in the thyroid gland, a radioassay of the thyroid can determine the level of exposure to many of its isotopes. However, I-129 has very low activity and emits extremely low energy beta particles, making a radioassay much more difficult.” [This statement makes it appears that it’s no big deal, whereas it is more dangerous than Iodine 129, based on the dose coefficients!] “Tests for I-131 in the body should be available through most major medical centers.

Protecting People from Iodine-129
How do I know if I’m near radioactive iodine?

Living near a nuclear power plant may slightly increase your annual exposure to I-131. Detecting radioactive iodine in the environment requires specialized equipment. Most major medical centers can test for isotopes of iodine in your body.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from iodine-129 and iodine-131?” [Shutting down the nuclear industry, and allowing no leakage of nuclear waste, is the only thing which can protect! However, it doesn’t protect from the Iodine 129 which is already dispersed into the environment during reactor operations and from weapons.]

The thyroid cannot tell the difference between radioactive and non-radioactive iodine. It will take up radioactive iodine in whatever proportion it is available in the environment.

If large amounts of radioactive iodine are released during an nuclear accident, large doses of stable iodine may be distributed by government agencies to keep your thyroid gland from absorbing too much radioactive iodine: Raising the concentration of stable iodine in the blood, increases the likelihood that the thyroid will absorb it instead of radioactive iodine. (Note: Large doses of stable iodine can be a health hazard and should not be taken except in an emergency. However iodized table salt is an important means of acquiring essential non-radioactive iodine to maintain health.

What is EPA doing about iodine-129 and iodine-131?

EPA has issued a variety of regulations that limit the release of radionuclides, including I-129 and I-131, to the environment. These regulations address airborne and liquid releases from nuclear reactors, airborne emissions from a variety of industrial and governmental facilities, and allowable radioactive releases from radioactive waste disposal systems.” [We have only found that there are EPA nation-wide limits for iodine 129 to air per amount of energy generated, which is meaningless for privately owned nuclear power states.]

EPA has established Maximum Contaminant Levels that limit the concentration of radioactive iodine and other radionuclides in drinking water from public water suppliers.

Recently, EPA issued its environmental standards for the potential waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Iodine-129 is one of the more important radionuclides of concern in the large inventory of spent reactor fuel and defense high-level waste. This standard limits the radiation exposure of individuals, and radionuclide concentrations in ground water from the release of I-129 and other radionuclides in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain.http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides/iodine.html

While emissions per facility would appear obvious, apparently the current EPA air “standard” for emissions of radionuclides is national, and is based on amount of electricity generated and not safety. Furthermore, none of the few radionuclides covered by the EPA, are reported as emitted into the AIR by the several nuclear facilities, examined. The supposed EPA AIR emission “limits” on nuclear facilities also make no sense on multiple fronts. First they make no sense in that the “standard” is nation-wide, rather than by facility, and, unlike Russia, the nuclear power plants are private and not government owned making it utter non-sense:
The total quantity of radioactive materials entering the general environment from the entire uranium fuel cycle. per gigawatt-year of electrical energy produced by the fuel cycle, contains less than 50,000 curies of krypton-85, 5 mii- curies of iodine-129, and 0.5 mllicuries combined of plutonium-239 and other alpha-emitting transuranic radionuclides with half-lives greater than one year.” 40 cfr 190 text (The original law is full of typographical errors, too. So, one can only guess that mii-curies is millicuries. They had “correction tape” in 1977.) The law may be suggesting that upon reprocessing that you figure out how much energy had been produced and work backwards – but this way of doing things makes no sense. Limits must be by facility as they are emitted.” See: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/us-nrc-radioactive-dilute-and-deceive-scam-comment-deadline-march-24th/
Good summary of US EPA clean drinking water rules is included here. They offer comparatively good protection, if they were applied correctly, as explained: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/radiation-in-water-dilute-deceive-externalize-costs-us-nrc-comment-deadline-mon-22-june-2015-11-59-pm-one-minute-to-midnight-ny-dc-et/
NRC Rules Iodine 131
NRC rules Iodine 129
70 Years is Enough Campaign:  Nuclear Energy is Nuclear War Everyday