Radiation situation in Ukraine
Radiation situation in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine does not affect the radiation situation in Finland. Nor can any accident or damage related to radioactive materials or nuclear power plants in Ukraine cause a situation in which people in Finland need to be protected from radiation.
Ukraine has four active nuclear power plants (Hmelnytskyi, Rivne, Zaporizhzhia and Southern Ukraine) with a total of 15 reactors. Even if the nuclear power plants in use in Ukraine were badly damaged, the serious radiation effects would not reach Finland.
However, an accident or damage to a nuclear power plant in Ukraine could cause large local discharges if the containment building around the reactor was damaged at the same time. Radioactive substances could pollute the surroundings of the plant and people close to the plant could develop an illness from radiation and radioactive substances. However, there would be no significant dispersion of radioactive substances over a radius of more than 200 km from the accident.
Nuclear power plants are generally quite strong constructions, as they have to tolerate many extreme natural events. The multiple safety systems of nuclear power plants are capable of ensuring safety even if some part of the plant were damaged. However, nuclear power plants for civil use are not designed to withstand military attacks.
In addition to direct attacks on nuclear power plants, indirect impacts could occur. The operability of the electricity grid and plant maintenance, for example, as well as the ability and possibility of the personnel to look after the plant are vital in view of safety. For example, paralysing the Ukrainian electricity grid would affect the operation and production of nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants would then have to operate with a standby supply system for significantly longer periods than in the case of normal disturbances.
STUK has no detailed information about the plants in Ukraine and their design criteria, or more detailed information about the preparedness and protection of nuclear power plants in Ukraine against intentional damage.
In any case, the Ukrainian nuclear power plants are water-cooled plants with the same basic structure as the Loviisa nuclear power plant in Finland. An accident such as the one in Chernobyl in 1986 is not possible in them. The Chernobyl reactor used graphite as the moderator, the combustion of which raised radioactive substances high into the air and subsequently spread them over a very large area through the air currents.
International conventions require that nuclear power plants are not attacked or damaged intentionally. An additional protocol to the Geneva conventions relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts in the Geneva outlaws military attacks on dams, dikes, nuclear power plants and other corresponding plants that would cause danger if damaged even if they were used for military purposes. This convention has been clearly violated several times during the war in Ukraine in the Chernobyl area and at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, for example.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is located in the northern part of Ukraine. One of the four reactors of the plant was destroyed in 1986. A protective dome has been built on top of the destroyed reactor. The other three reactors have been permanently shut down and the fuel has been removed from their reactors. The Chernobyl area also has storages of spent nuclear fuel and other nuclear waste. The spent nuclear fuel stored in the Chernobyl area is still very radioactive. However, it has been cooled down for a long time and there is virtually no risk of radioactive substances spreading over a very large area.
The Chernobyl plant area is surrounded by a 30 km exclusion area, whose soil and vegetation still contain radioactive substances from the accident. The dose rate caused by external radiation there has remained high since the 1986 accident. Radioactive substances in the soil may be released into the air by movement in the area, for example, causing a momentary rise in radiation levels. Radioactive particles are heavy, as dust from the area is bound to the particles, and they do not travel long distances.
Radioactive substances elswhere in Ukraine
There are radioactive substances in research institutes and in storages for radioactive waste recovered from places other than nuclear power plants in different parts of Ukraine. The waste in the storages is mainly low-level waste from hospitals and industry.
Iodine tablets and how to take them
The authorities permanently recommend that people should have iodine tablets in their medicine cabinets at home for a possible radiation accident. Taking iodine tablets in the event of a radiation hazard situation due to a nuclear accident is recommended for people up to 40 years of age and pregnant women. When taken at the right time and in the correct doses, iodine protects the thyroid gland and reduces the risk of thyroid cancer. The situation in Ukraine has not affected this recommendation nor is there any special reason to purchase iodine tablets now.
Above all, iodine tablets must not be taken without instructions from the authorities. You should never take an iodine tablet ‘just in case’, as it is important to take the iodine tablet at the right time. The protective effect of the tablet is reduced if the tablet is taken too early or too late.
Elsewhere on the Internet
Frequently asked questions
The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority has received a large number of questions related to the situation in Ukraine. We have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions and answers to them on this page.
The situation in Ukraine
The Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (um.fi) is closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and providing reliable information related to the crisis. STUK publishes information related to nuclear and radiation safety on its website and social media channels. It is especially important to be media and source critical during crises and serious events. Not all information shared online is reliable, and children, for example, must be protected from war material shared on social media.
STUK monitors the situation in Ukraine from the point of view of nuclear and radiation safety and reports, for example, on the situation of Ukraine's nuclear power plants and possible effects of the radiation situation on Finland on its website and social media channels. We do not take a position on energy, geopolitical or security policy issues. We also do not provide advice on medicines, illnesses or allergies. For example, for individual questions related to iodine tablets, please contact your physician or pharmacist.
An accident such as the one in Chernobyl in 1986 is not possible. The reactor destroyed in Chernobyl was of a different type than the reactors in the current operating nuclear power plants in Ukraine. There was a design flaw in the Chernobyl reactor and the security systems had also been shut down before the explosion. The Chernobyl reactor used graphite as the moderator, the combustion of which raised radioactive substances high into the air and subsequently spread them over a very large area through the air currents.
Despite the fact that the Chernobyl accident was very serious, the accident did not have any health effects in Finland. Radiation levels rose also in Finland, but not to such an extent that protection measures for people would have been necessary. Protective measures for food production were started immediately in Finland, so that short-lived radioactive substances would not be transferred to humans via food. Chernobyl fallout continues to increase the radiation dose received by Finns, but the amount is very small, less than a hundredth of our annual average dose of 5.9 millisieverts. According to a study conducted by STUK, which was published in 2013, the Cancer Registry and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the fallout caused by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident has not noticeably increased the number of cancers in Finland.
The effects of the Chernobyl accident in Finland (stuk.fi)
If radioactive substances were released from an operational nuclear power plant or Chernobyl in Ukraine, the effects would be mostly local and regional. People in Finland would not need to shield against radiation.
Finnish authorities use extremely precise and sensitive methods for detecting radioactivity in outdoor air and fallout, which is why trace activity concentrations might be detected in Finland as well. The concentration depends greatly on wind directions and the altitude of the release. A strong wind (more than 10 meters per second) blowing directly northwards from Ukraine toward Finland would carry the release to Finland in approximately two days. The release would of course become diluted on the way, as it would get mixed with air and a part of it would settle on the ground. Even in this case, people in Finland would not need to shield against radiation.
A meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Ukraine could cause large local discharges if the containment building around the reactor was damaged at the same time. However, there would be no significant dispersion of radioactive materials over a radius of more than 100 km from the accident. Therefore, immediate health effects could only occur near the plant. In practice, nothing related to possible radioactive materials or nuclear power plants in Ukraine can cause a situation that would require immediate radiation protection in Finland. Finland could be subject to restrictions on the use of certain foodstuffs if there was a nuclear accident or a nuclear attack in Ukraine. These kinds of actions would protect people from the long-term effects of radiation.
The distance impacts of the use of a nuclear weapon are very difficult to estimate as they depend on the size of the weapon and the height at which it is detonated. In order for the effects of the weapon to reach Finland, the nuclear weapon would need to be very large. Even this would not have an immediate effect: the direct heat and pressure effect of even a really big nuclear bomb extends over some dozens of kilometres at worst. Modern nuclear weapons designed to be used in combat are smaller so-called tactical nuclear weapons. The radiation effect is not the main destructive mechanism of a nuclear weapon, but the nuclear bomb also produces an extensive explosion. This means that damage is primarily caused by the effects of heat and pressure. At the moment, nuclear weapons do not represent a threat to Finland.
The situation in Ukraine has no impact on the radiation situation in Finland. The authorities recommend that iodine tablets should be available at homes and workplaces as part of basic preparedness, but there is no need to purchase them separately due to the situation in Ukraine. Above all, iodine tablets must not be taken without instructions from the authorities. You should never take an iodine tablet ‘just in case’, as it is important to take the iodine tablet at the right time. The protective effect of the tablet is reduced if the tablet is taken too early or too late.
A serious nuclear power plant accident may release radioactive iodine into the atmosphere, and this typically builds up in the thyroid gland after entering the body by inhalation, for example. The primary protective measure is sheltering indoors. The build-up of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland can be reduced by taking an iodine tablet. The efficiency of this measure depends on correct timing. The tablets must therefore only be taken when instructed by the authorities. Instructions for using the iodine tablet are provided via radio and television. Guidance can also be found by following the authorities' communications on their websites and social media channels.
The iodine tablet taken at the right time saturates the thyroid gland with normal non-radioactive iodine and thus prevents the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine will be quickly eliminated from the body by the kidneys. The protective effect of the tablet is reduced if the tablet is taken too early or too late.
The iodine tablet only protects the thyroid gland; it does not reduce any other types of exposure. Taking cover indoors significantly reduces the amount of radioactive substances entering the body by inhalation, thereby also reducing the dose absorbed by the thyroid gland. Taking iodine tablets is a complementary precaution to staying indoors.
It is especially important that children and pregnant women take iodine tablets as instructed by the authorities in a radiation hazard situation. The thyroid glands of children and the foetuses are more sensitive to radiation than those of adults. It is also recommended that pregnant women with a thyroid condition take the iodine tablet to protect the foetus. If necessary, talk to your treating physician about taking iodine tablets.
An iodine tablet is a medicine. Medicines must be administered in doses specified by the manufacturer in the package leaflet. Currently, the package leaflet for iodine tablets (Jodix) sold in pharmacies in Finland does not mention the dosage of iodine for children under three years of age. The public health service will procure iodine tablets suitable for children under 3 years of age and will determine the best way to distribute them to parents and pregnant women. This is a completely new task for the public health sector and will require preparation and training of staff. The initial estimate is that the distribution of the product for young children will start in 2023. Distribution will be managed by the public health system. The public health service will communicate to families and parents when a medicinal iodine preparation suitable for children under 3 years of age is available.
STUK or other authorities cannot issue recommendations or instructions on the dosage of medicines that differ from those of the manufacturer.
No link has been found between exposure to radioactive iodine and thyroid cancer in adults. This is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend iodine tablets for people over 40 years of age in emergency situations. Exceptions are pregnant women and workers at risk. The most vulnerable group in a radiological emergency are young children and foetuses. The risk of adverse effects from an extra dose of iodine also increases with age, as does the incidence of thyroid disease.
A single iodine dose provides protection for one day and some protection on the second day after taking it. The iodine dose should be taken 1–6 hours before exposure to radioactive iodine in order to provide full protection. The later the iodine dose is taken, the greater the reduction in the protective effect. The iodine dose is of no use if the radioactive substances were inhaled more than 12 hours before taking the dose. To ensure correct timing, the iodine tablet should only be taken as instructed by the authorities.
There is currently no risk related to radiation in Finland and there is no need to take iodine tablets. However, the situation in Ukraine has raised the need for citizen’s preparedness and demand for iodine tablets has increased. The availability problems related to the tablets in pharmacies are temporary. The Finnish pharmaceutical manufacturer responds to the high demand for iodine tablets as much as possible and regulates the production of medicines.
In the event of radiation hazard situations resulting from nuclear power plant accidents, sheltering indoors is the primary protective measure and is effective in reducing radiation exposure. Taking iodine tablets is a secondary protective measure in radiation hazard situations, complementing sheltering indoors.
Additional information: 72hours.fi - Sheltering indoors
Iodine tablets are classified as a medicine and their shelf life is stated in the package leaflet. Do not use any medicine after the use-by date stated in the package. Do not discard expired or unused medicines among household waste or pour them down the drain. Return any unused medicines to the pharmacy for disposal.
Side effects of potassium iodide are very rare. However, if you have thyroid disease, you should exercise caution. If necessary, talk to your treating physician before taking iodine tablet.
Potassium iodide is not recommended for those who have had their thyroid gland removed. If you have hyperthyroidism, dermatitis herpetiformis or vasculitis with reduced complement levels (hypocomplementemic vasculitis), you should not take iodine tablets containing potassium iodide. Do not take an iodine tablet if you have previously had a serious allergic reaction to iodine.
Iodine allergy associated with the use of contrast agents does not prevent the use of iodine tablets.
The protective role of potassium iodide on the thyroid gland is limited in patients with hypothyroidism receiving thyroxine or other thyroid hormones.
Products sold as food supplements do not protect the thyroid gland in a radiation hazard situation. The strength of the iodine preparation Jodix sold in Finland differs a thousandfold from the iodine sold as a food supplement.