President Donald Trump's promise to boost the US economy is working out great for at least one industry — the nuclear catastrophe business.
“Donald Trump has been very good for the prepper business,” Troy Jones, owner of nukepills.com in Mooresville, North Carolina, told BuzzFeed News. Jones sells FDA-approved potassium iodide pills used to forestall radiation poisoning, as well as radiation protection kits and other emergency supplies. “It's the tweets. Our orders just explode.”
Jones said sales typically increase tenfold and switch from individual pill packs to radiation protection kits after Trump’s nuclear tweets, such as Tuesday night's “my button is bigger” taunt to North Korea's leadership.
High-ticket bomb shelter sales are up as well, according to Gary Lynch of Rising S Company in Murchison, Texas. His company’s bunkers, starting at $39,500 (including a $6,000 air filtration system for nuclear fallout), are not impulse buys after a presidential tweet. But there’s no doubt that Trump’s missives have some influence, he said.
“Certainly anxiety over North Korea or Iran plays a part in the decision to build a shelter,” Lynch said. “A lot of people we talk to are concerned about society in general, the national debt, riots, and they see a shelter as a prudent decision.”
The Food and Drug Administration has approved four potassium iodide products for over-the-counter sales. The pills work by blocking radioactive iodine from depositing in the thyroid. They are best known for saving children in some parts of eastern Europe from thyroid cancers after the 1984 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They were also distributed widely after the 2011 Fukushima reactor accident. (The price of a bottle of the pills leapt from $6 to $140 on the West Coast after the disaster, according to Time, and most outlets sold out their supply.)
Survivors of a blast would have other problems the pills don’t help, chiefly burns and radiation sickness that kills intestinal cells and bone marrow. Prussian blue tablets intended to remove different radioactive isotopes from fallout victims are sold only by prescription.
At least one company, Israel’s Pluristem, is using Trump's tweets as an excuse to plug its products. (A Pluristem press release sent on Wednesday had the subject line: Threatening “Nuclear Button” Tweets Highlight Need for Radiation Exposure Antidote.) The company’s experimental treatment for radiation sickness — initially marketed to cancer patients who lose bone marrow after getting radiotherapy — is now being tested by the Defense Department.
Customers in West Coast states and Hawaii, in particular, are making big orders for potassium iodide pills, Jones said, particularly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened Guam in August and after Trump’s Tuesday night tweet.
“I don’t need to follow the news. The orders start coming, and I just say, ‘What has he said now?’” Jones said.
The August threats led California to issue guidelines to citizens about steps to take in the event of a nuclear explosion. Partly because of these bulletins, Jones said, orders are coming not just from private citizens, but also from local, state, and federal government sites after Trump tweets. The federal government requires communities near nuclear reactors to stockpile potassium iodide pills, along with public health stockpiles in locales that have feared a terror attack ever since 9/11. “We’re all preppers now, to some extent,” Jones said.
Even Colonel Sanders tried to turn nuclear annihilation into sales on Wednesday, with KFC UK & Ireland attacking rival McDonald's hamburgers in a mocking (and unsettling) copy of Trump's tweet aimed at North Korea.
Nuclear war with North Korea has the potential to kill tens of millions of people, and throw enough dust in the air to drop global temperatures for a decade while lowering rain and snowfall globally by about 10%, atmospheric scientist Alan Robock of Rutgers told BuzzFeed News, similar to an analysis of a war between Pakistan and India he coauthored in 2009. If people are scared about nuclear war and buying emergency supplies out of fear, he said, that might not be a bad thing.
“Scared people might start paying attention to this horrible doomsday machine we’ve built,” he said. “My advice to President Trump would be to get rid of these weapons. That is really the only way we'll be safe.”
Dan Vergano is a science reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Dan Vergano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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