Anti-Radiation Pills

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    • Recently, with fears of a nuclear disaster at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant growing, the European Union has decided to pre-emptively supply 5.5 million anti-radiation pills to be distributed among residents in the vicinity.

    What is a Radiation Emergency?

    • Radio-nuclear hazard: These are unplanned or accidental events that create radio-nuclear hazard to humans and the environment. 
      • Such situations involve radiation exposure from a radioactive source and require prompt intervention to mitigate the threat. 
    • Dealing with such an emergency also involves the use of anti-radiation tablets. 

    What are Anti-radiation Pills?

    • Potassium iodide (KI) tablets or anti-radiation pills are known to provide some protection in cases of radiation exposure. 
    • They contain non-radioactive iodine and can help block absorption and subsequent concentration of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland

    How do these pills work?

    • Contamination: After a radiation leak, radioactive iodine floats through the air and then contaminates food, water and soil.
    • Inhalation: While radioactive iodine deposited during external exposure can be removed using warm water and soap according to the World Health Organisation the bigger risk is inhaling it.
      • Internal exposure or irradiation occurs when radioactive iodine enters the body and accumulates in the thyroid gland.
        • The thyroid gland which uses iodine to produce hormones to regulate the body’s metabolism has no way of telling radioactive from non-radioactive iodine. 
    • Thyroid blocking: Potassium iodide (KI) tablets rely on this to achieve ‘thyroid blocking’. 
      • KI pills taken a few hours before or soon after radiation exposure ensure that non-radioactive iodine in the medicine is absorbed quickly to make the thyroid full.
        • Because KI contains so much non-radioactive iodine, the thyroid becomes full and cannot absorb any more iodine either stable or radioactive for the next 24 hours.

    Risk associated

    • Thyroid cancer: But KI pills are preventive only and cannot reverse any damage done by radiation to the thyroid gland. 
      • Once thyroid gland absorbs radioactive iodine, those exposed are at a high risk of developing thyroid cancer. 

    Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

    • It is located in south-eastern Ukraine and is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.
    • It was built by the Soviet Union near the city of Enerhodar, on the southern shore of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dnieper River

    International Atomic Energy Agency 

    • Popularly known as the world’s “Atoms for Peace and Development” organisation, the IAEA is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear field.
    • It was established in 1957 as an autonomous organisation, at the height of the Cold War (1945-1991) between the US and the Soviet Union.
      • Post World War II (1945), the world got divided into two power blocs dominated by two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the US.
      • The two superpowers were primarily engaged in an ideological war between the capitalistic ideals of the West versus the communist ideals of the East.
      • It came to an end after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.
    • Though established independently of the UN through its own international treaty, the agency reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.
    • It works with the member states and multiple partners worldwide to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies.
    • Functions and Contributions:
      • As the preeminent nuclear watchdog, the IAEA is entrusted with the task of upholding the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, 1970.
      • Deals with the sovereign states and their pursuit of civil and military nuclear programmes.
      • It is also active in championing civil nuclear solutions to a number of areas like health, which is one of the main areas of peaceful application of nuclear know-how.
      • In recent years, the IAEA has also been active in dealing with climate changepandemic containment and in the prevention of Zoonotic diseases.
    • Concerns and Criticisms:
      • Lack of Executive Authority: It has proved ineffective in preventing power politics from influencing nuclear negotiations.
      • Lack of Enforcement Capability: Due to IAEA’s “uneven authority” as it has no power to override the sovereign rights of any member nation of the UN.
      • Secretive & Less Transparent: As a partner to some of the complex and high stakes diplomacy, the IAEA has an air of secrecy around its functions and is accused of not being transparent about its actions.
      • Non-challenging Nature: It never challenges the nuclear dominance of the five permanent members of the UNSC, who themselves hold some of the biggest nuclear arsenals of the world.
      • Selective Information Sharing: Allegations have also hinted that IAEA inspectors and observers share information with the US government.

    Source: IE