False alarm at Ontario nuclear plant triggers thousands of orders of iodide pills

Pills help protect thyroid gland and reduce cancer risk if radioactive iodine is released into air

Ontarians placed more than 32,000 orders for iodide pills in the two days following a false alarm about an incident at Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.

There are normally between 100 and 200 orders per month, according to Ontario Power Generation.

But after an alert warning of an unspecified problem at the nuclear facility was sent in error Sunday morning, there were 32,388 orders placed over that day and Monday.

In Ontario, potassium iodide (KI) pills are distributed to residents within 10 kilometres of a nuclear facility; others living within a 50-kilometre radius of one can order them through a website called preparetobesafe.ca. In New Brunswick — the only other province with an operating nuclear power plant — the distribution radius is 20 kilometres.

The pills help protect the thyroid gland and reduce the risk of cancer if radioactive iodine is released into the air in the unlikely event of a nuclear emergency, according to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. They saturate the thyroid gland with non-radioactive iodine and prevent radioactive iodine from being absorbed.

“The thyroid gland will absorb iodine that is in a person’s bloodstream; it cannot tell the difference between radioactive iodine and non-radioactive (stable) iodine,” the CNSC says.

“The absorption of radioactive iodine can be prevented by taking KI before or soon after its release into the air…. Over time, the radioactive iodine will undergo radioactive decay and be harmlessly excreted in urine.”

The risk of side effects is “extremely low,” according to the preparetobesafe website, which is operated by Durham Region, the City of Toronto and OPG. Rare and mild side effects include gastrointestinal issues or hypersensitivity reactions, and people with thyroid disorders are at a greater risk of side effects.

People should only take the pills if directed to do so by public health officials, CNSC says. They are considered to last for up to 12 years as long as they are stored in a dry location that is kept between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius.

The Pickering nuclear plant has been operating since 1971. It had been scheduled to be decommissioned this year, but the former Liberal government — and the current Progressive Conservative government — committed to keeping it open until 2024.

The province has launched an investigation into the false alarm.

READ MORE: Months after false Hawaii missile alert, Canada ‘finalizing’ warning protocol (Dec. 2018)

Initial observations suggest human error was responsible for the message that was sent out during routine tests of the emergency alert system, Jones said.

A follow-up alert with an all-clear was sent to cellphones nearly two hours after the original notification.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Organizers seek input for long-awaited Oaklands community garden

Oswald Park Community Garden Design Workshop coming up on Jan. 19

Six months to Francophone Games, 600 volunteers needed

Online applications open on Jan. 14

Tech consortium invests $25 million into four University of Victoria research projects

Investments come with goal of developing, implement technologies created by Canadians

Mass-timber project in Esquimalt switches from condos to rentals

Corvette Landing will now offer rental units in the area

B.C. VIEWS: Few clouds on Horgan’s horizon

Horgan’s biggest challenge in the remainder of his term will be to keep the economy humming along

B.C. forest industry grasps for hope amid seven-month strike, shutdowns, changes

Some experts say this could be worse for forestry than the 2008 financial crisis

Northern B.C. RCMP investigating alleged sexual assault in lingerie store

One person was transported by ambulance to hospital following RCMP investigation at Sedaz

UBC, Iranian-Canadian community create memorial scholarship in honour of victims

The Jan. 8 crash killed 176 people, including 57 Canadians

Disrespectful that Horgan won’t meet during northern B.C. tour: hereditary chief

Na’moks said he was frustrated Horgan didn’t meet with the chiefs

Canucks extend home win streak to 8 with 4-1 triumph over Sharks

Victory lifts Vancouver into top spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

BC Green Party leader visits northern B.C. pipeline protest site

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada, British Columbia and First Nations

Most Read