Radiation situation in Ukraine
Radiation situation in Ukraine
The situation 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.
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.
According to the Presidential Office of Ukraine, Russian troops took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on the evening of Thursday 24 February 2022. This seizure does not pose a radiation threat to Finland. The threat of radiation spreading is mainly local.
The Chernobyl plant area is surrounded by a 30-km exclusion area and the dose rate caused by external radiation there has remained high since the 1986 accident. As a result of the military actions, the movement of vehicles and people in the area has increased, resulting in the release of radioactive substances into the air. Radioactive particles are heavy, as dust from the area is bound to the particles, and they do not travel long distances. Increased levels of radiation were local and they have already decreased to normal in the area.
There are often wildfires in the area in the spring, and this has happened this spring as well. Concentrations at the fire site may be such that firefighters have to take them into account in their work. In theory, it is possible that very small amounts of radioactive substances would be detected in Finland as well. However, no radioactivity from forest fires in Ukraine can be harmful to human health or the environment in Finland.
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 to a very large area.
Nuclear power plants in use
Ukraine has four active nuclear power plants 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.
The Ukrainian nuclear power plants are water-cooled plants with the same basic structure as the Loviisa nuclear power plant. An accident such as the one in Chernobyl in 1986 is not possible. The Chernobyl reactor used graphite as the moderator, the combustion of which raised radioactive substances high in the air and subsequently spread them to a very large area through the air currents.
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 performing safety functions even if some part of the plant is 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 may occur, for example, through the operation of the electricity grid, maintenance and staffing of the plant. 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 standby supply system for significantly longer periods than normal.
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.
According to the authority, power units remain intact. Unit 1 reactor compartment auxiliary buildings have been damaged, which does not affect the safety of the unit. The systems and components important to the safety of the NPP are operational.
At present, no changes in the radiation situation have been registered.
Storage facilities for radioactive waste
Radioactive waste which does not originate from nuclear power plants in Ukraine has been stored in several locations in different parts of the country. Such facilities typically hold disused radioactive sources and other low-level waste from hospitals and industry.
The Ukrainian authorities have reported missile attacks in the radioactive waste storage area of Kiev and Kharkiv. The authorities have also stated that the attacks have not damaged the storage areas in such a way that the radiation situation in the area would have changed. If the storages were damaged, the radiation could pose a danger locally.
For example, research institutes have radioactive substances in Ukraine as well. According to the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), a research facility in Kharkov, whose equipment is used not only for research but also for the production of medical radioisotopes, was damaged during the bombing 6.3. SNRIU says the radiation safety was not compromised by the attack.
According to SNRIU, the research equipment contains fresh nuclear fuel. According to our information, the device uses low-enriched uranium. Such uranium is not very radioactive.
Nuclear weapons have also been discussed in the context of the crisis in Ukraine. The impact of the use of nuclear weapons depends to a large extent on the nature of the weapons and the way in which they are used. An explosion would, of course, cause terrible damage. However, Ukraine is so far away from Finland that a nuclear explosion there would not affect the radiation situation in Finland in a way that would require protective measures.
Iodine tablets and how to take them
The situation in Ukraine has no impact on the radiation situation in Finland. Due to the situation, there is, for example, no need to get iodine tablets here. 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.
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. We will be supplementing the page in the near future.
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 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.
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 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. There are some international recommendations on the dosage of iodine tablets for children under 3 years of age, but the instructions in the iodine preparation currently on the market in Finland (Jodix) do not contain any information on such dosage. Neither STUK nor other authorities can give any recommendations or instructions on the dosage of a medicine that would differ from the manufacturer’s instructions. However, the need to come up with a recommendation for an iodine dose for children less than three years old has been recognized. At the initiative of STUK, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has established a working group with a task of updating the recommendations on using medicinal iodine in a radiation hazard situation. The goal is to create dosage recommendations for children under three years of age and have them added in the package leaflets.
An iodine tablet is taken to reduce the adverse effect of radiation on the thyroid gland, for example in situations where inhaled air contains a high concentration of radioactive iodine. The iodine tablet only protects the thyroid gland; it does not reduce any other types of radiation exposure. International studies have estimated that the risk of radiation-related thyroid cancer in people over 40 is extremely low, and on the other hand, the risk of adverse effects from an extra dose of iodine increases by age, concurrently with the incidence of thyroid diseases. In short, it is a matter of assessing and balancing the pros and cons.
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 has responded to the high demand for iodine tablets. The National Emergency Supply Agency has iodine tablets in its emergency stocks for situations where iodine tablets would be needed in Finland and they would not be available in pharmacies and wholesale.
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. Contact a pharmacy to learn how to discard unused medicines.
If you have had an allergic reaction to iodine preparations or have a thyroid condition, talk to your treating physician before taking iodine tablets.
As a rule, it is not recommended to take iodine tablets if the person has a thyroid condition or other thyroid problems or hypersensitivity to iodine. If the thyroid gland has been removed or is not fully functional, iodine tablets are not needed as the iodine tablet protects a functioning thyroid gland by blocking it during radiation exposure. However, if the hypothyroidism is mild enough so that a part of the thyroid gland functions, the iodine tablet can be taken to provide protection for the still functioning part of the thyroid gland.
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.