Ann Coulter #FAIL: Radiation is “good for you” (video)

A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council”¦.., why do the anti-science extremists always manage to find and/or misrepresent a tiny number of old studies to trumpet their nonsense — but ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

So who are you going to believe, citizens of Japan and people living near US nuclear reactors?  Ann Coulter — or the National Research Council’s Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (!), quoted above?

You can read Coulter’s nonsense in a column called “A Glowing Report On Radiation,” or watch her on Thursday’s “O’Reilly Factor”:


Back to the NRC, which, I might add, is traditionally quite conservative when it comes to these sorts of analyses, doing a full literature review and generally requiring a strong consensus by the committee participants for any major conclusions — in this case 17 MDs or PhDs:

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial,” said committee chair Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “The health risks “” particularly the development of solid cancers in organs “” rise proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

The research is in fact based on empirical data. You can read the whole NRC report, the seventh in a series on this subject dating back decades, here.

I actually first wrote about this report 3 years ago in a post title, “Yes, even low levels of radiation cause harm “” and coal plants are worse than nuclear plants*

*if the nuke meets government regulations “” a big if, as we’ve seen.

Now to the other interesting question:  From a radiation perspective, is it worse to live near a coal plant or a nuclear?

Here’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  They actually have a very detailed online analysis:

Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article “Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants” in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. This ironic situation remains true today and is addressed in this article.

The fact that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment has several implications. It suggests that coal combustion is more hazardous to health than nuclear power and that it adds to the background radiation burden even more than does nuclear power. It also suggests that if radiation emissions from coal plants were regulated, their capital and operating costs would increase, making coal-fired power less economically competitive.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for such regulations.

UPDATE:  Scientific American ran this article in December 2007, “Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste:  By burning away all the pesky carbon and other impurities, coal power plants produce heaps of radiation,” which notes:

Dana Christensen, associate lab director for energy and engineering at ORNL, says that health risks from radiation in coal by-products are low. “Other risks like being hit by lightning,” he adds, “are three or four times greater than radiation-induced health effects from coal plants.” And McBride and his co-authors emphasize that other products of coal power, like emissions of acid rain-producing sulfur dioxide and smog-forming nitrous oxide, pose greater health risks than radiation.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) maintains an online database of fly ash-based uranium content for sites across the U.S. In most areas, the ash contains less uranium than some common rocks. In Tennessee’s Chattanooga shale, for example, there is more uranium in phosphate rock.

Robert Finkelman, a former USGS coordinator of coal quality who oversaw research on uranium in fly ash in the 1990s, says that for the average person the by-product accounts for a miniscule amount of background radiation, probably less than 0.1 percent of total background radiation exposure. According to USGS calculations, buying a house in a stack shadow””in this case within 0.6 mile [one kilometer] of a coal plant””increases the annual amount of radiation you’re exposed to by a maximum of 5 percent. But that’s still less than the radiation encountered in normal yearly exposure to X-rays.

So why does coal waste appear so radioactive? It’s a matter of comparison: The chances of experiencing adverse health effects from radiation are slim for both nuclear and coal-fired power plants””they’re just somewhat higher for the coal ones. “You’re talking about one chance in a billion for nuclear power plants,” Christensen says. “And it’s one in 10 million to one in a hundred million for coal plants.”

So it looks to be a low risk.  Though I wouldn’t want coal ash dumped in my neighborhood (see “The day ‘clean coal’ died” and “Second TVA coal ash pond ruptures “” at Widows Creek coal plant“).

28 Responses to Ann Coulter #FAIL: Radiation is “good for you” (video)

  1. Some European says:

    When I saw those couple of minutes of nonsense, I needed to recover from it for nearly an hour.
    I’ve seen a lot. FOX News and the anti-science inquisition squad shouldn’t surprise me anymore. And yet, they still manage to surprise me.
    I really can’t believe this is on TV in a supposedly civilized country in the 21st century.
    I really can’t get my head around it.
    One satisfactory explantion would be that Murdoch is running a sociological experiment. He’s trying to figure out how far he can go.
    And I keep wondering: isn’t there any form of legal action we can take?
    Can I as an individual go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and sue these people?
    My specialization lies in Art and Science, not at all in Law so I’m very unaware of what can be done.
    What if tomorrow they start saying that eating rotten meat and eggs, poisonous mushrooms and drinking rat poison cures cancer. I mean: people get killed because of their purposeful lies. They know it perfectly well. Isn’t there anything? Anything? I’m willing to face death threats and harrassments for the sake of justice.
    If anybody has any advice, I’m listening.

  2. Anderlan says:

    Coulter doesn’t just jump the shark, she *is* the shark.

  3. Jeffrey Davis says:

    The running gag in The Big Lebowski over nihilism hit its peak with Walter’s comment, “Say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism but it least it was an ethos.” A great gag, but nihilism has its limits as a source of yocks. You can get too much of it.

    The AGW deniers and Fox talking heads are the unfunny side of modern nihilism: “Give us the money, Lebowski.”

  4. catman306 says:

    I hope she’s not related to Pam Coulter who sometimes delivers the NPR news and also ABC radio news. Anybody know? I don’t want my news delivered by even a shirt-tailed relative of Ann Coulter.

  5. JayZ says:

    The linear no threshold model for assessing health risks from ionizing radiation is the precautionary principle taken to the extreme.

    The NRC report is does include studies of occupation exposure to ionizoing radiation, but the report very specifically states that in that at relatively low doses, there is still uncertainty as to whether there is an association between radiation and disease, and if there is an association, there is uncertainty about whether it is causal or not. The problem being that when study groups get to sizes needed to examine low level exposure the sample sizes become so large that they cannot be adequately controlled.

    If you cannot demonstrate it with a repeatable epidemiological study then it aint science.

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    People like Coulter have always been with us. Her recent spiritual predecessors fought auto seatbelts and pesticide regulation.

    The best way to understand her without driving yourself crazy is to study historical philosophers like Gibbon, Brown, and Spengler. This would explain much, but unfortunately is a lost art. Human history is full of cruelty and madness, and this is not going to change soon. Fortunately, there have always been people working for good. We are engaged in a similar struggle today, and painting those who dwell on the dark side as being motivated by economics or politics does little to either defeat or explain them.

  7. catman306 says:

    David Biello, at Yale Environment 360 has a day-by-day account of the Fukushima radiation disaster.

  8. danleySteel says:

    Here’s a nice link.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    Coulter really liked the Taiwanese study about lower cancer rates in the apartment residents exposed to radiation from Cobalt-60. I wonder if she noticed that Taiwanese researchers continued their work with the residents and found an increase in chromosomal damage in the same population. She didn’t mention it, if she had.

    FD Chen et al. Chromosomal damage in long-term residents of houses contaminated with Cobalt-60. The Lancet. 355:726 February 26, 2000.

  10. Sue in NH says:

    I suspect she (and Fox News) is just trying to ridicule the entire scientific process.

  11. Lisa Boucher says:

    Mr. Romm — You rightly criticize Ann Coulter of relying on “a tiny number of old studies to trumpet nonsense,” but then you do exactly the same with respect to radioactivity from coal-burning power plants.

    The study by McBride et al. is nuclear industry propaganda that has been repeated ad nauseam for decades, even though its findings rely on assumptions that are either outdated or were never realistic in the first place.

    One false premise of the McBride study is that a coal-burning power plant filters 99 percent of its flyash.  Even back in 1978, when McBride published his report, the EPA was already finding that fabric filters removed 99.9 percent of flyash from the flue gas of an operating coal-burning power plant.  For example, in 1977 EPA measured filtration rates of 99.91 percent at the Nucla Plant in Colorado.

    There were also other false premises, but I don’t have time to elaborate right now.  The McBride study concluded (on page 35), “In general, however, whole-body and all organ doses for both the coal and nuclear plants were within the same order of magnitude.”  So the source term error alone would negate any claims that “coal delivers more radiation dose than nuclear.”

    Finally, even the McBride study itself contains this important caveat:

    “Results of the present analysis should not be construed to represent a complete comparison of’ the radiological impact of a nuclear energy economy versus a coal economy.  A true comparison would have to include the entire nuclear fuel cycle for a nuclear power economy (i.e., mining and milling operations, enrichment facilities, fuel fabrication and re-fabrication plants, fuel reprocessing, and waste management), and analysis of the impact of other phases of the coal fuel cycle such as mining and waste management.”

    Very few complete studies have been done on the radiological impact of coal because it is NOT a major issue.  Scientists have better things to do then consume their time and expensive equipment to compare miniscule A vs. miniscule B (with “B” being the radiation dose from a PERFECTLY operating nuclear power plant).

    I apologize if my tone is harsh, but I want to strongly dissent from what you have posted here this morning.  I usually find your blog to be among the very best sources of accurate scientific information, but not this time.

    [JR: It does not appear to be propaganda, but I have tried to update this article with more recent info.]

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Not all radiation is alike. (Have to say that in case Ms. Coulter reads this.) Nearly anyone who has benefited from medical controlled-dose radiation, either for diagnosis or treatment, learns that. Iridium-192 is not used interchangeably with Technetium-99. Cobalt-60 has some medical applications, and is used to irradiate foods. None of those isotopes is figuring prominently in the nuclear reactor releases.

    The isotopes released from the Fukushima nuclear reactor are reported to be largely Iodine-131 and Cesium-137. If a public press conversation about reactor health risks could please note the isotopes actually related to reactors, that would help.

  13. Deborah Stark says:

    Workers pulled at Japan nuke plant as smoke rises

    You know what they say… a picture is worth a thousand words. I am posting the above link primarily for the accompanying heartbreaking and succinctly revealing image.

    As for Ann “Whip It, Whip It Good” Coulter, the only influence she has comes from the attention she manages to get in the print and broadcast media. She is in truth a consistently reliable example of grotesquely distorted consciousness.

  14. Rob Honeycutt says:

    These things are great! People like Coulter are becoming more and more blatantly idiotic. I think they’re setting the stage for their own demise.

    In the meantime, let’s throw a “radiation party” for Coulter, Beck and Limbaugh to help them a long and healthy life. Special invited guests: Inhofe, Morano, Monckton… and the whole cavalcade of conservative clowns.

  15. Prokaryotes says:


    Three-dimensional bicontinuous ultrafast-charge and -discharge bulk battery electrodes

    Rapid charge and discharge rates have become an important feature of electrical energy storage devices, but cause dramatic reductions in the energy that can be stored or delivered by most rechargeable batteries (their energy capacity)1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Supercapacitors do not suffer from this problem, but are restricted to much lower stored energy per mass (energy density) than batteries8. A storage technology that combines the rate performance of supercapacitors with the energy density of batteries would significantly advance portable and distributed power technology2. Here, we demonstrate very large battery charge and discharge rates with minimal capacity loss by using cathodes made from a self-assembled three-dimensional bicontinuous nanoarchitecture consisting of an electrolytically active material sandwiched between rapid ion and electron transport pathways. Rates of up to 400C and 1,000C for lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride chemistries, respectively, are achieved (where a 1C rate represents a one-hour complete charge or discharge), enabling fabrication of a lithium-ion battery that can be 90% charged in 2 minutes.

  16. Scrooge says:

    It seems like as long as we have fox news there will be an endless stream of nonsense that’s easy to dispute. What’s sad is the so called adults in the GOP go along with it. It does look like they are testing the waters to see how stupid their base really is. Or the problems are so great they simply can’t handle them and perhaps trying not to be reelected. But the joke may be on them because it looks like their base is that stupid.

  17. Mike # 22 says:

    A 2006 paper studying the Taiwanese Cobalt 60 exposure, “Cancer risks in a population with prolonged low dose-rate γ-radiation exposure in
    radiocontaminated buildings, 1983 – 2002” states “All cancers combined, all solid cancers, and a combination of leukemia and thyroid/breast cancers were further shown with exposure-dependent increased hazard ratios in individuals with the initial exposure before 30 years old, but not beyond this age.”

    So its just children and young adults who need to worry about Cobalt 60 radiation. That’s OK then.

  18. Jeffrey Davis says:

    Coulter can put her money where her mouth is. There was a radium craze in the early part of the 20th century. People would drink it as an energy boost.

    If she looked around, I’m sure she could find someone to sell her some cesium to spike her orange juice with. Of course, her waste products would have a dangerous half life.

    Sort of like now.

  19. Richard Brenne says:

    A stroll around the Fukushima nuclear reactors might do her some good. She could be a tour guide for the reactors and every Fox News employee and Republican could take the tour. . .

  20. Pam says:

    I am not related to Ann Coulter, except we’re both from Connecticut and both went to Cornell.

    Pam Coulter

  21. Pam says:

    Does that make me a shirttail relative?

  22. Chris Winter says:

    A nearly innumerate report from Ms. Coulter. Twice she referred to radiation doses above the “minimum” safe level. The first: “There’s a growing body of evidence that radiation amounts in excess of what the government says are the minimum amounts you should be exposed to are actually good for you and reduce cases of cancer.”

    And twice she spoke of people being exposed to an “inordinate” amount of radiation and experiencing beneficial effects.

    Then of course there were the reflexive claims of media suppression: “It gets no press.” “The media will not report this.”

    Except for The New York Times and the Times of London — both of which she mentioned as covering the story.

    I don’t know much about Bernard Cohen, except that he was born in 1924 and now is a professor emeritus.

    “This extraordinary sensitivity of the methods of measuring radioactivity has ironically been turned against them in some of the present debates about the potential harm from low doses of radiation. Instances of radioactive contamination that are in many cases much lower than the natural radioactivity of the human body are vehemently denounced, and presented as a particular hazard resulting from nuclear energy. Effects from other energy sources that are actually more pernicious are ignored simply because these effects are more difficult to measure. This often disserves public understanding of the relative dangers of various human activities—an understanding to which this book is intended to contribute.”

    Garwin & Charcot, Megawatts and Megatons, pp 79-80

    The book reports the worldwide average annual exposure from natural sources is 2.4 milliSieverts. We as a species evolved in this radiation environment, so obviously low levels of radiation are not very harmful. But just the same, hormesis is not something for which there is conclusive evidence.

    WRT the Taiwan apartments, my note says “About 1,700 apartments in Taiwan become contaminated with Cobalt-60, and about 10,000 residents in the contaminated apartments receive gamma radiation doses averaging about 0.34 Sv, the highest 7 Sv.” This strongly suggests that reports of beneficial health outcomes should be looked at very carefully.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ann Coulter IS the shark. The lunacy of the far Right, and we in Australia suffer the exact same Murdochian malaise, centred on his local flagship The Fundament (The Fundamental Orifice of the Nation) aka ‘The Australian’ (The ‘Heart’ of the Nation’-the monumental arrogance and self-delusion of it all!) is part ideology, part pathopsychology both acting under the unnatural selective force of Rightwing groupthink. Just when you think they cannot go any further into the mire of misrepresentation, false assertion, hypocrisy and ignorance, they find new depths to plumb. Things are looking, just a little, more sane, or less floridly deranged, in this country, but that just ‘incentivates’ the denialist industry to greater fervour. Whenever I see Coulter, which, thank Rupert!, is rarely, when I get my monthly fix of FoxNews malevolence to remind me of what Murdochism really means, I’m always impressed by the feeling that she is just a naughty little girl seeking attention or approval by playing up to her audience. I can’t help feeling that she is not serious, surely cannot be serious, simply must not be that dumb that she believes this stuff. She seems almost more like a performance artist, like Beck. Sheer opportunism, saying what she knows will get her a pat on the head and a nice income. Morally bereft, and cunning.

  24. Lazarus says:

    I mentioned this a couple of days ago on my own humble blog;

    Well common sense shows that it can be if used in very controlled and specific ways but her glee at the idea of millions being exposed to greater than recommended doses following leaks at Fukushima nuclear plant with the clear implication that exposure will be beneficial to the health of many is both ignorant and absurd. It is good and rather worrying to see Bill O’Reilly actually be the voice of sanity for a change.

  25. paulm says:


    Fox Tabloid at its best.

  26. Calamity Jean says:

    Ann Coulter is an Evil Mutant. That’s why she likes radiation.

  27. MarkF says:

    All Levels of Radiation Confirmed to Cause Cancer.

    Washington, DC July 30, 2005 The National Academies of Science released an over 700-page report yesterday on the risks from ionizing radiation. The BEIR VII or seventh Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation report on “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation” reconfirmed the previous knowledge that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation—that even very low doses can cause cancer. Risks from low dose radiation are equal or greater than previously thought. The committee reviewed some additional ways that radiation causes damage to cells.

    Nuclear Information and Resource Service

  28. George Ennis says:

    Clearly her brain was irradiated, heavily.