SoFla's sexiest pundit, Ann Coulter, published a singularly weird article this week, extolling the many health benefits which our friends in Japan may expect to derive from their exposure to excess radiation.
"With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan," she begins, "the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer."
This only seems counterintuitive because of media hysteria for the last 20 years trying to convince Americans that radiation at any dose is bad. There is, however, burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.Coulter then proceeds to list studies which support this idea, and concludes that the improvement in the health of living cells by radiation ("radiation hormesis") is real, proven, and happens all the time. Unfortunately, she can't know that. Radiation hormesis is a subject of intense debate within the scientific community, and even the scientists Coulter cites wouldn't claim otherwise. There's just too much uncertainty. Coulter alludes to a John Hopkins study showing that shipyard workers exposed to radiation don't get cancer. Fine. Here's another one showing they're at increased risk of leukemia. (I didn't link to the Hopkins study because I can't find the damned thing. Coulter says it exists, and lots of people talk about it, but the actual study seems to have gone missing from the interwebs.)
But Coulter won't write about that study, because she doesn't deal in uncertainty -- in fact, the written record suggests she's never experienced a moment of it. Which is why she has the cojones to write:
Amazingly, even the Soviet-engineered disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 can be directly blamed for the deaths of no more than the 31 people inside the plant who died in the explosion...
Meanwhile, the animals around the Chernobyl reactor, who were not evacuated, are "thriving," according to scientists quoted in April 28, 2002 Sunday Times. (UK)
To this, a reasonably informed person can say only: Bullshit!
First off: There weren't "31 people inside the plant who died in the explosion." Nobody
died in the first explosion at Chernobyl. The number "31" comes from
the number of workers and firefighters who died in the weeks that
followed the Chernobyl disaster. What killed them? Radiation poisoning!
The firefighters arrived at the Chernobyl reactor well after the initial explosions, under the command of Lieutenant Volodymyr Pravik. Pravik died on May 11th of acute radiation poisoning. So did his subordinate, Victor Kibenok. Their friend, Vasyli Ignatenko, died two days later. Another fireman, Nikolai Tetanok, died three days after that. Almost all of the men who went near the reactor fire at Chernobyl died within a few months. Of the few who managed to last three or four years, most sloughed off their intestinal lining sometime in May, 1986. In medical circles, pooping out one's own guts is considered a sign of ill health.
Of course, Coulter's correct about the animals around Chernobyl. They are very much "thriving"; they've got the whole place to themselves. Fecund as they are, however, they're also profoundly mutated. They do the best they can in a new-growth forest, which has grown up since the original pine forests of Chernobyl turned red and died in the summer of 1986.
Coulter is correct in saying that Chernobyl has proven less disastrous than originally predicted. Cancer levels among evacuees never reached the levels feared in 1986, the fallout affected a far smaller area than expected, etc. But only someone with a kinky hatred of ambiguity would claim it was anything other than a cataclysm, that radiation is harmless, or that the people of Sendai, Japan, are anything other than very, very unlucky.