16 March 2011
SETI League
PriUPS Project

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Potassium Iodide

Along with you, I am thinking about the tragic earthquake in Japan.  From a distance of almost half a world away I am reading with concern about the battle to cool the reactor cores and prevent a "meltdown" that will release significant radioactivity into the environment.  My concern is less personal, of course, than that of the people closer to the atomic power plants.  Although this is as it should be, you would hardly know it after reading an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal about the run on potassium iodide pills and solution that has caused a shortage occasioned by the increase in the rate of orders.  One firm "was getting about three orders a minute for $10.00 packages of its Iosat pills, up from as few as three a week normally."

Potassium Iodide is an interesting study in "risk/reward ratio."  The risk to North America from a release of radioactive iodine in Japan is negligible.  The risk to North America from our own reactors may or may not be negligible, but it has not suddenly changed due to the events in Japan.  The frantic stocking up by U.S. consumers due to events half a world away would seem to be due to panic more than rationality.  I personally feel rational about this because I have had a bottle of KI tablets for many years, so many in fact that they "expired" half a decade ago.

Rad Block KI (Potassium Iodide) label Is that a great symbol on the package or what?  A 65mg tablet vs. a mushroom cloud.  Powerful!  But back to the expiration date:  As you can see, my tablets are allegedly useless now, seeing as they "expired" over six years ago.

Potassium Iodide adverse reaction prediction label

The Japanese atomic crisis hasn't prompted me to call a supplier frantically for two reasons.  First, if I were going to replace my tablets at all, I would wait 'til the rush is over.  But the only reason I even looked for the bottle was what seemed to me to be the bizarre note in the Journal article about the tablets expiring.  How can they expire?  Even those forgetful of chemistry know that sodium chloride is common table salt, a very, very, stable compound of the alkali metal sodium and the halogen chlorine.  Potassium is an alkali metal, iodine is a halogen, and potassium iodide is, like table salt, about as stable as a chemical can be.  Although I imagine that putting an expiration date on these tablets is both a selling tool and a legal requirement, I believe that my tablets will be waiting for me if I ever need them, which I don't ever expect to. 

Why do I have them if I don't expect to need them?  Back to risk/reward ratio.  I am far enough from an atomic power plant to be well outside any contingency or evacuation zone.  And the prevailing winds would most likely carry any debris from a serious breach of containment in the opposite direction.  I do not live in fear of radiation, although sometimes I joke about it.  I consider the "risk" to be negligible if not zero.  But, just as you look at the benefit of an insurance policy along with its cost, you compare the reward, in this case greatly reducing the possibility of at least one form of cancer, against the cost, in this case close to zero as the tablets are very cheap.  Do you buy insurance against an unlikely occurrence?  Especially insurance with no recurring premiums?  See above.

Expiration of a Different Sort

Owsley moved to Australia in the '80s, according to an article I read some time ago.  I sent him an email about the PriUPS project since the article mentioned his interest in off-grid existence.  He went by "Bear," mostly, and was selling jewelry on the web.  I didn't know him nearly well enough to judge if he got more eccentric as he got older, or was mellowing.  "Cool!"  was his single-word response to my email.  A taciturn (or busy) fellow, to be sure.  Our paths first intersected in 1976, when he was mixing the Grateful Dead Steal Your Face album.  His eccentricity at the time, inter alia, was lettuce.  We were having dinner, and I'm sure the salad must have been included since I was having one.  He most emphatically was not.  Lettuce is a soporific, he pointed out, and dangerous in other unremembered ways.  He had a steak.  Well centered on the plate since there was nothing either with it or before or after.

Owsley(left) and Phil Lesh at Burbank Studios mixing the Steal Your Face album (1976).

Owsley mixing at Burbank Studios in 1976 as Phil Lesh looks on. 

Owsley died in a car accident in Australia on 13 March 2011.  The audio industry (and yes, the chemical "industry") has lost another pioneer.

"A Salty Dog"
Procol Harum




I am not especially big in Optoelectronics, notwithstanding the T-shirt that, if I were wearing it, would make that claim on my behalf.  This was next in line, fortunately.  I don't have a lot of really green T-shirts, so this will work for tomorrow, blogitem  or none.

General Electric "I'm big in Optoelectronics" T-shirt
Richard Factor

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