Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
The genius doctor who diagnosed Nuke Power's deadly disease
Submission from Donna Dillman,
with permission from H. Wasserman
The nuke power industry now wants $50 billion and more in loan guarantees to
build new atomic reactors. As it strong-arms Congress, the warnings of the
great Dr. John Gofman, who passed away last week at 88, loom ever larger.|
One of history's most respected and revered medical and nuclear pioneers,
Gofman's research showed as early as 1969 that "normal" radioactive reactor
emissions could kill 32,000 Americans per year.
At the time, Gofman was the chief medical researcher for the Atomic Energy
Commission. He told the AEC that reactor emissions must be radically
reduced. The AEC demanded he change his findings, then forced him out when
Since then, reactor backers have ceaselessly and erroneously attacked Gofman
and his findings. But they could hardly have picked a more brilliant,
committed opponent. Gofman was both relentless and uncorrupted. His findings
should have doomed from the start an industry he called "insane."
In addition to being a world-class nuclear chemist, Dr. John William Gofman
was one of history's most important heart specialists. His pioneer research
helped define our modern understanding about cholesterol, distinguishing
"good" fatty acids from bad. Gofman's astonishing medical discoveries remain
at the core of today's common wisdom about diet and heart disease.
For that work alone, Gofman was a towering figure. Throughout his life, he
was friend and peer to Nobel Laureates such as Linus Pauling and George
But Gofman was also a nuclear chemist. As part of the Manhattan Project that
built the first atomic bombs, his pioneer work helped lead to the
discoveries of plutonium and certain isotopes of uranium.
Yet his career suffered from an inconvenient truth: when he discovered that
atomic power plants kill people in large numbers, he refused to shut up
As a full professor at the University of California, Gofman's combined
medical and nuclear credentials made him an obvious choice to manage health
research for the Atomic Energy Commission, which both regulated and promoted
the young nuclear power industry. When public questions were raised about
the health impacts of radioactive reactor emissions, Gofman was dispatched
to prove the industry safe.
But his findings showed that reactors are serious killers. So even Gofman's
towering resume could not protect him from the wrath of an industry
determined to build all the power plants it could. He and co-researcher
Arthur Tamplin were driven from their jobs.
When their POISONED POWER detailed the killing potential of atomic energy,
Gofman and Tamplin were attacked mercilessly by an industry with immense
investments to protect. The experience showed that no matter how impeccable
their credentials, and no matter how thorough their research, any scientists
whose findings might indicate problems with atomic power would be
automatically "discredited" by industry flacks to who did no comparable
Even at his passing, the tired attacks on Gofman's findings have resurfaced.
But his research remains the gold standard on the health impacts of
radiation. And as a gentle but firm advocate, mentor and friend, his
integrity was matched only by his willingness to step outside traditional
boundaries for what he believed.
One of Gofman's most powerful and influential moments came in 1974, when he
agreed to defend a civil disobedient named Sam Lovejoy in the small town of
Montague, Massachusetts. A member of a communal organic farm, Lovejoy had
manually knocked over a 500-foot weather tower erected as a precursor to the
building of a large twin reactor complex.
Gofman agreed to testify in Lovejoy's defense, arguing that building two
nuke reactors constituted a lethal threat to the health and safety of the
community. In a monumental moment for the rise of the anti-nuclear movement,
Lovejoy was acquitted.
Gofman's pivotal pronouncements appear in the award-winning LOVEJOY'S
NUCLEAR WAR (gmpfilms.com), which has been shown all over the world. As a
pivotal struggle over a "bailout in advance" for new reactor construction
rages in Congress, Gofman's words resonate with a renewed critical
"The decision to build nuclear power plants," he said, "may very well be,
for the first time, a decision that can result in the desecration of the
Earth with respect for life for all future generations.
"Why do we want to put every city and hamlet of the United States at risk by
building a thousand of these plants? We can get the power from sunshine,
very easily and economically.
"When we're talking about a mass of a hundred tons or so of material,
melting 5,000 degrees Farenheit, with water around, with hydrogen being
generated and burning explosively, melting through concrete into soil, when
someone tells me that we're sure it isn't going to go far away, I say that
I've heard various forms of insanity, but hardly this form.
"Even if this hazard of a meltdown were securely answered, it doesn't alter
for one second my opposition to nuclear power, because I'm concerned about
the fact that whether it melts down or doesn't melt down, you 've created an
astronomical amount of radioactive garbage which you must contain and
isolate better than 99.99 percent perfectly, in peace and war, with human
error and human malice, guerilla activity, psychotics, malfunction of
equipment...do you believe that there's anything you'd like to guarantee
will be done 99.99 percent perfectly for a hundred thousand years?
After fifty years of proven failure, the nuke power industry is demanding
still more taxpayer handouts to create still more of this waste.
The great and good Dr. John W. Gofman warned us all against this insanity.
His words and spirit remain at the core of what must be done to save this
[Harvey Wasserman is senior advisor to the Nuclear Information & Resource
Service, and has been fighting the reactor industry since 1973. He is
senior editor of Freepress.org, and author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED