Sunday, August 26, 2007

My favorite scientist

August 26th, 2007

On August 15th, Dr. John W. Gofman died of heart failure at 88.

He was the best, and so naturally, the nuclear industry hated him,
denounced him, tried to discredit him, and, whenever possible, ignored him.

They hated him because they could not disprove his theory that low
level radiation was a lot more harmful than officially recognized,
and potentially deadly down to the last radioactive atom. He spent
decades developing statistical proofs based on epidemiological
studies. He turned out to be right.

They hated him because he had been one of their own -- and in fact,
one of their best.

During World War II, while still a graduate student at Berkeley,
Gofman isolated the first usable quantities of Plutonium-239, for use
in the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bombs that were
used at the end of the war.

By 1978 (when he had to submit an affidavit in a nuclear case) he had
published over 150 scientific papers on the following topics:

(1) Lipoproteins, atherosclerosis, and coronary heart disease.
(2) Ultracentrifugal discovery and analysis of the serum lipoproteins.
(3) Characterization of familial lipoprotein disorders.
(4) The determination of trace elements by X-ray spectrochemical analysis.
(5) The relationship of human chromosomes to cancer.
(6) The biological and medical effects of ionizing radiation, with
particular reference to cancer, leukemia, and genetic diseases.
(7) The lung-cancer hazard of plutonium.
(8) Problems associated with nuclear power production.

At the time his honors and awards included the Gold-headed Cane Award
as a graduating senior from UC Med. School in 1946, the Modern
Medicine Award in 1954 for outstanding contributions to heart disease
research, the Lyman Duff Lectureship Award of the American Heart
Association in 1965 for research in atherosclerosis and coronary
heart disease, the Stouffer Prize (shared) in 1972 for outstanding
contributions to research in arteriosclerosis, and in 1974, the
American College of Cardiology selection as one of 25 leading
researchers in cardiology of the previous quarter century.

He also was Associate Director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory from
1963 to 1969 and holds three patents. One is on the slow and fast
neutron fissionability of Uranium-233, one is on the sodium uranyl
acetate process for separation of plutonium from uranium and fission
products from irradiated fuel, and one is on the columbium oxide
process for the separation of plutonium from uranium and fission
products from irradiated fuel.

Regarding nuclear weapons testing, he wrote:

"I am prepared to defend, before any scientific body, and under oath
in full public view, my estimate that ONE MILLION people (perhaps
only 500,000 or as many as two million) in the Northern Hemisphere
have been irreversibly condemned to die of lung cancer from those 5
tons of plutonium. Indeed, were it not for the fact that by far MOST
of the plutonium fell either upon the oceans or uninhabitable land,
the figure of one million would be enormously larger." ("Irrevy" by
J.W. Gofman, 1979, page 39.)

Dr. Gofman's estimates were based on the concept that a given
quantity of plutonium, if divided among 1, 2, or any number of
people, will have (statistically speaking, of course) approximately
the same effect, that is, that on average one person will die from a
"lethal dose" of plutonium, whether that plutonium is all given to
one person or divided out among many people.

He was co-discoverer of Uranium 233 and the first of the three
patents in his name, on the slow and fast neutron fissionability of
Uranium 233, was described by former AEC chairman Glenn T. Seaborg as
being worth in the neighborhood of "a quatrillion dollars" to the
nuclear power industry.

Gofman also developed (in 1943) the chemical techniques to deliver
the first milligram-quantities of plutonium to J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Prior to that, all anyone had were microgram quantities, but "Oppy"
needed milligrams, and he went to Gofman for it, who was a graduate
student at Berkeley at the time. Gofman produced more than twice the
amount his friend "Robert" needed and was able to keep the rest to
play with for himself. (Okay, Okay. It wouldn't be my choice of toy either.)

Gofman was the Chairman of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility,
which he founded in 1971. CNR is a non-profit, educational group
organized to provide independent analyses of the health effects and
sources of ionizing radiation. Gofman was also Professor Emeritus in
Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California at Berkeley.
While at Livermore National Lab in 1963 he established the Biomedical
Research Division where he examined the health effects of radiation
and studied chromosomal origins of cancer. He authored six books on
the health consequences of ionizing radiation -- in 1981, '85, '91,
'94, '98 and '99, with various updates into the new millennium.

Scientific studies conducted over the past few decades have borne out
Gofman's warnings. Even the latest "BIER" study (BIER VII) agrees
that there is no safe dose -- no threshold -- below which radiation
is not harmful and cannot cause cancer, leukemia, heart problems,
birth defects, and literally hundreds of other ailments.

I met Dr. Gofman after he spoke in New York City, around 1979 or
1980. I sent him several of my first essays on nuclear power, which
he approved of. We spoke by phone occasionally after that, but often
at length when we did speak, and he always remembered the details of
the previous conversations far better than I did -- and yet I was the
one in awe, hanging onto every word! His mind was amazing. He
counted as his friend -- not just his colleague and certainly not
just his adversary -- such men as Glenn Seaborg. The last time
Gofman and I spoke was probably about 10 years ago, and at that time,
nearing 80, he was working feverishly on additional epidemiological
studies of the health effects of x-rays given by the medical
community. Since then, average dose rates for individual medical
procedures have continued to drop, as better technology has been
developed and the dangers of "LLR" (low-level radiation) has become
more and more undeniable. That trend continues, but slowly.

Activists have used Gofman as a "litmus test" to determine who the
spies, infiltrators, agitators, provocateurs, and paid disrupters are
in their group. These people will always tell you that "Gofman has
been discredited."

In fact, Gofman never was discredited, and his research
stands. Radiation is dangerous down to the last decay, and Gofman is
our hero. His work on the Manhattan Project should have made him a
hero to the rest of society, as well, but America doesn't like anyone
who questions the standard dogma of the nuclear age, so he was never
recognized for his contributions to our understanding, or his vital
contributions to the war effort.

An American icon and unsung hero had faded away.

Rest In Peace, John. We loved you.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

(Portions of the above were created from previous essays about Dr. Gofman.)

The URL for CNR is:

Below is the New York Times' obituary, in which many of Gofman's
accomplishments are ignored or downplayed and he's portrayed more as
an activist than as a scientist, which is utterly ridiculous:

New York Times
August 26, 2007

John W. Gofman, 88, Scientist and Advocate for Nuclear Safety, Dies

Dr. John W. Gofman, a nuclear chemist and doctor who in the 1960s
heightened public concerns about exposure to low-level radiation and
became a leading voice against commercial nuclear power, died on Aug.
15 at his home in San Francisco. He was 88.

The cause was heart failure, his family said.

In 1964, while he was director of the biomedical research division at
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Dr. Gofman
helped start a national inquiry into the safety of atomic power. At a
symposium for nuclear scientists and engineers, he raised questions
about a lack of data on low-level radiation and also proposed a
wide-ranging study of exposure in medicine and the workplace, from
fallout and other sources.

With a colleague at Livermore, Dr. Arthur R. Tamplin, Dr. Gofman then
looked at health studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
as well as other epidemiological studies, and conducted his own
research on radiation's influences on human chromosomes. In 1969, the
two scientists suggested that federal safety guidelines for low-level
exposures be reduced by 90 percent.

The findings were contested by the Atomic Energy Commission, and the
furor made Dr. Gofman a reluctant figurehead of the antinuclear
movement. In 1970, he testified in favor of a legislative bill to ban
commercial nuclear reactors in New York City and told the City
Council that a reactor in urban environs would be "equal in the
opposite direction to all the medical advances put together in the
last 25 years."

Both he and Dr. Tamplin left Livermore in the 1970s, and Dr. Gofman
went on to become an expert witness in radiation-exposure lawsuits
and help found an advocacy group, the Committee for Nuclear
Responsibility, based in San Francisco. In an unsuccessful project,
he and others called for a five-year federal moratorium on new
nuclear power stations, citing problems in the safe storage of
radioactive waste. Yet, for all his efforts as a nuclear gadfly, he
did not oppose the building of nuclear missiles.

"Because we live in a dangerous world," he said in 1993, "I think the
only thing you have is the deterrence value" of such weaponry.

Dr. Gofman's appearance in the nuclear debate surprised some
colleagues, since a thrust of his earlier research had been in
cardiology. In the late 1940s and '50s, he and his collaborators
investigated the body's lipoproteins, which contain both proteins and
fats, and their circulation within the bloodstream. The researchers
described low-density and high-density lipoproteins and their roles
in metabolic disorders and coronary disease.

In his earliest work, while still a graduate student at the
University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Gofman studied nuclear
isotopes and helped to describe several discoveries, including
protactinium-232, uranium-232, protactinium-233 and uranium-233. He
also helped to work out the fissionability of uranium-233.

John William Gofman was born in Cleveland. He graduated from Oberlin
College, and received a doctorate in nuclear and physical chemistry
from Berkeley in 1943. Dr. Gofman went on to earn a medical degree
from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1946.

He joined Berkeley in 1947 and retired as professor emeritus of
molecular and cell biology in 1973.

With Egan O'Connor, he wrote a book, "X-Rays: Health Effects of
Common Exams" (1986). He also wrote "Radiation-Induced Cancer from
Low-Dose Exposure: An Independent Analysis" (1990).

Dr. Gofman's wife, Dr. Helen Fahl Gofman, a pediatrician, died in 2004.

He is survived by a son, Dr. John D. Gofman, an ophthalmologist, of
Bellevue, Wash.