Turning inner space into outer space

March 16, 2011

Potassium iodide panic helps no one

The distance from Kamloops to Japan is more than 8,000 kilometres. That’s actually greater than the distance (7,314 kilometres) between Victoria and St. John’s, N.L. And yet people here have managed to work themselves up into such a state over problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that they’ve emptied the city’s pharmacies of potassium iodide.

The pills or droplets supposedly prevent radioactive iodine from causing thyroid cancer, but the risk of anyone in Canada being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation from Japan are somewhere between zero and nil. The chances are much greater that people will become sick by taking too much potassium iodide.

How did we get into such a state of affairs?

When we see vivid images of catastrophe in our living rooms every night, the perils of radiation seem all the more immediate — especially when Peter Mansbridge pronounces the situation to be “very, very serious.” Surveys have found that people believe television more than that of any other news medium, perhaps because seeing is believing.

Making things worse is the cynicism and distrust toward governments. It’s reached the point where many people automatically believe the opposite to be true of whatever an elected official tells them. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told us that we need not fear dangerous levels of radiation reaching Canada. So what does that mean? A coverup? A conspiracy?

I hope common sense will start prevailing. Japan is half a world away. While the situation is dire, there is still hope that disaster can be averted. And even if a worst-case scenario plays out, we should be devoting our energy to those who truly need help — the people of Japan.