Potassium iodide, which can protect you from radiation, is trending. Here's why

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the prospect of nuclear war has crossed the minds of many worried consumers — causing new price surges in several commodities. 

This includes potassium iodide pills.

What exactly is potassium iodide? Yorkers who live in Peach Bottom Township or in close proximity to Three Mile Island might already know.

Potassium iodide is a medication that helps protect the thyroid gland against harmful effects of radioactive iodine chemicals, according to the state Department of Health.

Costs for the tablets have surged in recent weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine and put his nuclear forces on alert. Demand is most intense in Europe, with Finland seeing a more than 100-fold increase and Norway facing supply shortages after 90,000 packets were sold in a week, according to Bloomberg News.

Reactors on Three Mile Island during a closure event for the nuclear power station Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. TMI began commercial operations in 1974. The event was sponsored by Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania, a coalition formed in support of the state's nuclear power facilities. Bill Kalina photo

In the United States, Google searches for “does iodine help in nuclear war?” have skyrocketed approximately 1,150% over the past seven days, Bloomberg reported.

In Pennsylvania, potassium iodide can be obtained free of charge by individuals who live, work or attend school within a 10-mile radius of one of the state’s four operating nuclear power plants.

More:Live within a 10-mile radius of the Peach Bottom? Read this

These facilities are the Beaver Valley Power Station, Limerick Generating Station, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station and Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, said Maggi Barton, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health. Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County closed in 2017.

A man opens his arms as he stands near a house destroyed in the Russian artillery shelling, in the village of Horenka close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, March 6, 2022. On Day 11 of Russia's war on Ukraine, Russian troops shelled encircled cities, and it appeared that a second attempt to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol had failed due to continued violence. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

"There has not been an uptick in potassium iodide tablet requests at Department of Health sites," Barton said Thursday. "The purpose of potassium iodide is specifically to protect individuals from some of the effects of the release of a nearby nuclear power plant."

She added that the tablets, also referred to as KI pills, would not protect individuals from other radiological incidents.

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.