Niigata nuclear disaster drill finds governor, state at odds over iodine pill distribution


An evacuation drill to prepare for a nuclear disaster has been held in Niigata Prefecture, but central and prefectural government officials remained at odds over when to hand out potassium iodine pills to residents to mitigate the risk of thyroid cancer in such a scenario.

The drill was based on a situation in which an earthquake registering 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 0 to 7 would hit the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, operated in the prefecture by Tokyo Electric Power Co., knocking out the power supply and leaving the utility unable to cool its reactor 7.

About 1,500 people within a 30-km radius of the plant participated in the drill.

In Tuesday’s drill, as Tepco announced the expected timing of radiation leaks from the plant, Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida held a teleconference with central government and municipal officials, saying that potassium iodine tablets should be handed out to residents immediately to protect their thyroid glands.

“Residents should take potassium iodine pills before radiation is released,” Izumida said.

However, central government officials maintained that, in accordance with basic evacuation guidelines, such tablets are to be distributed only after radioactive materials leak outside the plant, and only in areas where radiation levels are found to be high.

The drill wrapped up without finishing, as officials disagreed over the timing of the iodine distribution.

However, other aspects of the drill, which involved relaying information on the scale of the disaster among government agencies, were carried out.

Izumida said after the drill that he cannot protect the health of residents under the current guidelines set by the central government. Due to its disagreements with the central government, Niigata Prefecture has been unable to come up with a proper plan on how to administer iodine tablets in the event of a nuclear disaster.

But Hiroo Shinada, mayor of the village of Kariwa, criticized the governor, saying that such disagreements should not be dealt with during an evacuation drill.

At a public health center in the city of Nagaoka, where officials also participated in the exercise, pharmacists simulated administering iodine tablets to young children by dissolving them in water, making them easier to administer.

  • Starviking

    Really! This is just grandstanding by the governor. The CDC says the following:

    “People should take KI (potassium iodide) only on the advice of public health or emergency management officials. There are health risks associated with taking KI.”


    “single dose of KI (potassium iodide) protects the thyroid gland for 24 hours. A one-time dose at recommended levels is usually all that is needed to protect the thyroid gland.”

    So taking the KI early is no use if the RadioIodine release occurs 24 hours later.

    And we have this:

    “Taking a stronger dose of KI (potassium iodide), or taking KI more often than recommended, does not offer more protection and can cause severe illness or death.”

    The governor claims he is just interested in the welfare of his constituents. If this is the case he should defer to experts. If this is not the case, and he is interested in votes, well – keep on going, there’s plenty of rope.

    • rossdorn

      On the morning after Fukushima I went to several pharmacies to get those pills for all the kids in our neighborhood, but not a single one of them even KNEW what I was talking about. Some even told me that even if ´they had something like that, the sale would be illegal.
      The stuff arrived from Switzerland in the mail, but of course it needs to be taken earlier.

      The people of Tokyo were simply lucky thet the wind blew the mess out over the ocean, and only on a small part of Fukushima prefecture in the north/western direction.

      Amazing how naive I was then… now of course I see, that the people of Japan do not really care, they will always elect politicians who make rules like that, again and again and again… one learns.

      • Oliver Mackie

        The UK and US embassies (at least) handed out the pills to nationals and their spouses and dependents. They did so immediately.

      • rossdorn

        They did? That is laudable, however one probably had to call them, to find that out….?

        You need to take the iodine in the first 24 hours, otherwise it is useless, the thyroid receptors for iodine will be occupied and the result are the numbers of damaged children we can now already see. The “porblem” is, that the consequnces are not seen until years later. There is enough literature about the consequences from Chernobyl.
        Usually one dose is sufficient.The european institutions argue that soemone who has enough intelligence to ask for iodine also has enough intelligence to get out of there, if the situation is as it was in Fukushima

      • Oliver Mackie

        The British authorities were very good. We were registered with them so we got several calls from the UK, one of them informing us of the possibility of getting the tablets. The timing was sufficient. Remember the tsunami was in the Friday but the situation at Fukushima didn’t reach the point of releasing radiation until several days later.

      • rossdorn

        Good !

        This is precisely the difference between a european government and the japanese one.

        The european ones at least know, that they are supposed to work for their people.

        An alien concept in a feudal state….

      • Too Many Passwords

        If only that were true most of the time.

      • Too Many Passwords

        We did not get a call; as they did not have our phone number (why would they have it?)…..And what about people who do not have a phone?
        They had our address; and we only got Iodine tablets up to a week later when I saw a news snippet and found out for myself what we needed to do.

        As for the radiation release; you are mistaken if you believed the initial official line that there was no radiation release very early into the disaster.
        I was blogging online about the radiation release after the plant explosion; and knew radiation was spewing into the air as the Regional/National and international news said it was not leaking radiation.
        In fact I was blogging online during the earthquake about the earthquake. I even correctly estimated the number of bodybags that might be required. 30,000 while discussing ongoing events with some Americans.

      • Too Many Passwords

        That information is WRONG. I was here in Niigata prefecture during the Earthquake; with children at school; and not only were our children ordered to walk to school during the radiation fallout (as the wind blew from Fukushima a couple of days later), but we did not get offered iodine tablets by the UK government until well over a week later. And we had to travel from the countryside to the main city (a 70Km round trip); which in the event of a local Earthquake of the same magnitude as Fukushima got that day, then the Bridges would have been unusable.

        What is needed is Iodine tablets in a medical box for every person within 50-miles of a Nuclear power station; or Japan should invest in advanced Geo-thermal energy as I gave a talk on in Niigata/Shibata the years before the Tsunami.

        Oh; and will this account be banned also?

      • Starviking

        The stuff needs to be taken earlier? Not according to the CDC. The dose lasts for 24 hours, so it needs to be taken when I-131 has been reported to have been released.

        In any case, the major route for I-131 into the body is ingestion, with milk being a particular hazard, so being careful with your food intake will be key.

    • Too Many Passwords

      Face reality; Japan is far more suited to modern Geothermal to obtain energy (ones which don’t suffer from `scaling-up`)..
      So many concepts not being taken advantage of.
      Its not like Japan needs waste nuclear fuel for dirty bombs. There are alternatives.