FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

My Favorite Scientists

by RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN

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.

RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN, a computer programmer in Carlsbad, California, has written extensively about nuclear power. His essays have been translated into several different languages and published in more than a dozen countries. He can be reached at: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 18, 2017
Gary Leupp
The Extraordinary Array of Those Questioning Trump’s Legitimacy (and Their Various Reasons)
Charles Pierson
Drone Proliferation Ramps Up
Ajamu Baraka
Celebrating Dr. King with the Departure of Barack Obama
David Underhill
Trumpology With a Twist
Chris Floyd
Infinite Jest: Liberals Laughing All the Way to Hell
Stansfield Smith
Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change
Ron Leighton
Trump is Not Hitler: How the Misuse of History Distorts the Present as Well as the Past
Ralph Nader
An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump
Binoy Kampmark
NATO and Obsolescence: Donald Trump and the History of an Alliance
Zarefah Baroud
‘The Power to Create a New World’: Trump and the Environmental Challenge Ahead
Julian Vigo
Obama Must Pardon the Black Panthers in Prison or in Exile
Alfredo Lopez
The Whattsapp Scandal
Clancy Sigal
Russian Hacking and the Smell Test
Terry Simons
The Truth About Ethics and Condoms
January 17, 2017
John Pilger
The Issue is Not Trump, It is Us
John K. White
Is Equality Overrated, Too?
Michael J. Sainato
The DNC Hands the Democratic Party Over to David Brock and Billionaire Donors
John Davis
Landscapes of Shame: America’s National Parks
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks
Chris Busby
The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth
David Macaray
Four Reasons Trump Will Quit
Chet Richards
The Vicissitudes of the Rural South
Clancy Sigal
“You Don’t Care About Jobs”: Why the Democrats Lost
Robert Dodge
Martin Luther King and U.S. Politics: Time for a U.S. Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Jack Sadat Lee
I Dream of Justice for All the Animal Kingdom
James McEnteer
Mourning Again in America
January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail