Sadly, it may be time to stock up on 'nuke pills'

Sadly, it may be time to stock up on 'nuke pills'
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In 2001 we received a package from San Diego Gas and Electric Company, which managed the San Onofre nuclear power plant at the south end of San Clemente, where our house is located. The package contained potassium iodide pills, more colloquially known as "nuke pills," and the instructions included with the pills informed us that we should take one pill per day in the "unlikely event" that there was a radiation leak from the power plant.

The pills were sent to us because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2001 concluded that states should distribute these pills to people living within a ten-mile radius of a nuclear power plant. According to the Federal Drug Administration, when administered in the recommended dose, potassium iodide "floods the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine and prevents uptake of radioactive molecules..."

As I have listened to the frightening threats and counter-threats of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un, I have thought about whether to buy and stockpile potassium iodide in the event of the accidental or intentional detonation of nuclear weapons by North Korea and/or the United States. Is it time to do so?


The Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK) more commonly known as North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests, and four of these have been conducted since Kim Jong-Un became the leader of his country. In addition, North Korea has conducted scores of ballistic missile tests, including two that overflew Japan.

Kim has threatened to attack Guam, where the U.S. has a major airbase. And on Tuesday, the DPRK tested a missile that most experts believe qualifies as an "intercontinental ballistic missile" (ICBM) capable of reaching any part of the continental United States from North Korea.

For his part, President Trump on Aug. 7, 2017, said, Kim Jong-Un "has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” Four days later the president tweeted, "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path." Then at his speech at the United Nations, the president departed from his prepared speech and called the North Korean leader "Rocket Man," and following the President's return from his recent trip to Asia, the name calling continued.

Kim has called President Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" and the North Korean state news agency recently released a statement: “The U.S. is running amok by introducing under our nose the targets we have set as primary ones. The U.S. should expect that it would face unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time...The rabid man in the White House … will first face the immense volley of nuclear fire if he hopes to settle [this] confrontation with nukes.”

Such volatile name-calling and rhetorical threats are, needless to say, not conducive to the peaceful settlement of an increasingly tense crisis. In fact, the situation is so serious that former director of the CIA, John Brennan, has estimated that there is a 20-25 percent probability of military conflict between the U.S. and North Korea, hardly a reassuring assessment.

Commenting on Tuesday's missile test, Secretary of Defense Mattis said, "The bottom line is, it's a continued effort to build a threat--a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace, and certainly, the United States." President Trump warned, "We will take care of it."

With the militaries of the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and North Korea at increased readiness levels (i.e. preparing for war), I am reminded of the historian Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, the classic account of the outbreak of World War I.

In that case, neither Kaiser Wilhelm nor his first cousin, Czar Nicholas wanted to go to war, but their general staffs told them that they had to prepare for it by sending troops and materiel to the front, and the tragic result was the costliest war in human history up to that time.

For the past four and a half decades, I have researched, taught, and written about nuclear weapons, strategy, and international security. And for the first time, I have bought a supply of potassium iodide for my family and me. Sadly, I think it's time to do so.

Dan Caldwell is a former naval officer and currently distinguished professor of political science at Pepperdine University and most recently the co-author with Robert E. Williams, Jr. of Seeking Security in an Insecure World.