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

New seniors care facility in Nelson to be built at Mount St. Francis site

Mount St. Francis hasn’t been in use since 2005

UPDATED: Interior Health to add 495 long-term seniors care beds

Nelson, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon and Penticton to receive new facilities

Business steady at Nakusp Hot Springs

People have been visiting facility from all over Western Canada since it reopened on June 29

Provincial COVID-19 data can now be used for B.C. to prepare for a second wave

In the past week, B.C. has seen a slight spike in daily test-positive case counts

Haitian foster children arrive in Nelson after months-long lobbying effort

Marie-Paule Brisson and Sebastien De Marre have parented girls age 12 and 8 since they were babies

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Tree planters get help with COVID-19 protective measures

Ottawa funds extra transportation, sanitizing for crews

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

New comet appears in pre-dawn sky above Cranbrook

Neowise can be seen without a telescope over the next couple of weeks

Most Read