Ask A Scientist: How Well Prepared Would Iceland Be For A Nuclear Disaster? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Ask A Scientist: How Well Prepared Would Iceland Be For A Nuclear Disaster?

Ask A Scientist: How Well Prepared Would Iceland Be For A Nuclear Disaster?

Published August 30, 2019

Could Iceland handle a nuclear disaster? Would the country be prepared for a Chernobyl-esque situation? To find out, we reached out to physical chemist Dr. Helgi Rafn Hróðmarsson, aka The Cosmic Chemist to find out.

As Iceland does not possess any nuclear plants or reactors, the chances of a serious nuclear threat are low. But there are still several risk factors, including nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers that sometimes come within Icelandic territorial waters. Furthermore, there is the threat of Icelandic tourists who visited places that suffered nuclear meltdowns being contaminated by radiation when they reenter the country.

Iceland does have a plan in case of a nuclear threat and among the preemptive necessities are iodine tablets. Iodine plays a key role in our cellular activity, helping to convert amino acid tyrosine into thyroid hormones. The thyroid cannot, however, differentiate between iodine isotopes. Unluckily, amongst radioactive fallout is iodine-131, a highly radioactive isotope known to cause mutation and cell death.

By ingesting an iodine tablet, the thyroid gland is overloaded with iodine and thus prevented from ingesting any more iodine, making the tablets pivotal in nuclear fallout prevention.

So how many iodine tablets does the Icelandic Directorate of Health have in stock? Well… 10,000. Icelandic inhabitants number over 360,000 which means that 3% of the population could be protected for up to ten days in case of a nuclear disaster. Again, the risk of nuclear fallout affecting the Icelandic populace is infinitesimal, but the number of tablets is still too low for comfort. But should you start stocking up on iodine tablets if the state will not? Ehh… If you are paranoid enough to have a nuclear bunker you probably already have, so, maybe just carry on and pretend that everything is fine.

For more scientific questions answered, click here.

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