Potassium Iodide and The Lion in the Road

Apparently, many North Americans are stocking up on potassium iodide, thinking that this is prudent preparation in case of exposure to radioactivity, which they believe is heading our way from Japan. Why am I not going to do this? Because I believe subjecting oneself or one’s family to the known risk of taking KI pills is not justified in the light of what we know about the non-risk of radioactive fallout here.

Let me give an analogy. I live about a kilometre from the Nicomekl River which flows through Langley. This river floods a few times every year, when it rises about 3 to 6 metres above its usual level, and my house is about 15 metres above the river’s usual level. (These numbers are my approximate guesses.) The river has on occasion flooded neighbouring streets and homes. Taking every possible precaution, I decide to build a flood wall around my house to protect it and my family. I cannot trust my government which assures me that floods will not ever reach this level. I try to convince my neighbours to join me, but although they don’t, as for me and my house, I will build my wall. While building the wall, putting up concrete forms, I fall off a ladder and break my hip.

The situation at Japan’s Daiichi reactor is certainly dire. I cannot predict what will happen there, and I would not be surprised if some (many) of the heroic workers on site will die. But I am also confident in God’s covenant faithfulness, whereby I do not expect the behaviour of the atmosphere, ocean, neutrons, isotopes, alpha particles, electrons, and gamma rays to be utterly different from what we have been able to observe, describe, explain, and understand over the past century. Even if a full-blown nuclear explosion occurs in Japan (which is far worse than the worst case scenario discussed by experts), and even if some of the material from the explosion eventually makes it to us here in North America, by that time its radioactivity and concentration will have been so significantly reduced that while it might possibly be measurable by highly sensitive devices, it will not be much above the normal natural variations which we experience every single day. These differences are due to wood vs. concrete walls, the type of dishes you use and food you eat, your clothing, whether you’re on the first or second storey of a house, whether it’s cloudy or sunny, whether a smoker walks past you, etc. No one who understands nuclear physics has any concern for Japanese nuclear radiation directly affecting North America.

I do not doubt that God can flood the Nicomekl to a 30 metre stage which would swamp my house. But this would require him to go far beyond the normal (providential) behaviour of the atmosphere, such as rainfall rates in the amount of metres per day. Yesterday I saw my next door neighbour carry a briefcase into his house after looking both ways down the street; he might have a dirty nuclear bomb in his possession. Today I will walk past a few hundred people; any one of these might be carrying a syringe filled with poison. Every decision regarding personal safety involves a weighing of risks, which includes a communal assessment, and a degree of confidence in God’s providence and covenant faithfulness.

Proverbs 26:13 advocates against saying, “There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!” Apparently, this would be an excuse for not going about one’s daily task. I’m not saying that everyone who is concerned about danger is lazy (or paranoid), but it does remind us to give a proper assessment of dangers. God has equipped us with the good gift of science to help us make rational judgments.

In the meantime, let us all remember and assist the people of Japan; may God have mercy as they continue to face grave difficulties resulting from the earthquake and tsunami.

Last updated Mar. 18th, 2011 at 9:27am by Arnold Sikkema