Both the great Truths and the great Falsehoods of the twentieth century lie hidden in the arcane, widely inaccessible, and seemingly mundane domain of the radiation sciences

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: Exhibit E continued

What follows is the continuation, in serial form, of a central chapter from my book A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.

Exhibit E continued

Dr. John Gofman was another scientist that began to express his doubts that the population remained unharmed by fallout. Gofman had been a staunch supporter of the nation’s nuclear programs. He was a co-discoverer of the fissionability of uranium-233, and during the Manhattan Project, he had helped to isolate the first milligram of plutonium. He went on to become head of the biomedical section of the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory. In May 1963, the AEC had announced the initiation of a “comprehensive, long-range program exploring in greater breadth and depth . . . man-made environmental radioactivity and [its] effects upon plants, animals and human beings” [1]. Gofman was selected to oversee the program, and he worked closely with Arthur Tamplin, a former graduate student. It was during this work that Gofman began to undergo a conversion. He became convinced that public health and safety were not top priorities during weapon testing or in the Government drive to develop commercial nuclear reactors. In May of 1966, Gofman and Tamplin published a report entitled “Estimation of Dosage to Thyroids of Children in the US From Nuclear Tests Conducted in Nevada During 1952 Through 1957.” It contained a realistic picture of the spread of radioactive iodine across the country and dose estimates to children’s thyroid glands from the ingestion of contaminated dairy products. Some original dose estimates had to be scaled down after consultation with the AEC. In 1969, Gofman and Tamplin made headlines that further aggrieved the AEC. Up until that time, the scientific community and the public had received repeated assurances that routine leakages and discharges of radionuclides from nuclear reactors would pose no threat to health. During the course of their research, Gofman and Tamplin came to the opposite conclusion. At a science symposium in San Francisco in October 1969, they reported that levels of radioactive effluent from nuclear reactors which were deemed safe would in truth kill large numbers of people:

“If the average exposure of the US population were to reach the allowable 0.17 rads per year average,” they warned, “there would in time be an excess of 32,000 cases of fatal cancer plus leukemia per year.” And the deaths would occur “year after year.” Thus they recommended an immediate lowering of the legal exposure limit by a factor of ten, to 0.017 rads“ [2].

Gofman and Tamplin made other waves during 1969. After Sternglass published his article on infant mortality and weapon testing, the AEC approached Gofman to refute the findings. Gofman handed the assignment to Tamplin, who reviewed Sternglass’s research. The opinion he arrived at was that the number of cases of infant mortality had been overstated. At most, fallout from atmospheric testing was responsible for only 4,000 infant deaths. Pleased by this, the AEC encouraged Tamplin to publish his findings in Science. But they urged him to omit all mention of infant deaths caused by fallout from nuclear weapon tests.

For their ongoing opposition to the nation’s nuclear agenda, both Gofman and Tamplin were forced out of their jobs. “ In 1973, as a casualty of his integrity, Dr. Gofman lost his position in his laboratory” [3]. In 1975, having lost his staff and budget in a thinly disguised act of blackballing, Tamplin resigned his position with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

For his involvement in the nation’s nuclear program, Gofman has made the following confession:

I feel that at least several hundred scientists trained in the biomedical aspect of atomic energy — myself definitely included — are candidates for Nuremberg-type trials for crimes against humanity for our gross negligence and irresponsibility. Now that we know the hazard of low-dose radiation, the crime is not experimentation — it's murder” [4].

The issue that refused to be buried was that low levels of radiation were a threat to health. The subject repeatedly surfaced in the scientific journals. It represented the gravest threat to the nation’s nuclear programs. Nuclear weapon testing released radiation into the environment. Commercial nuclear power plants could not operate without venting radioactivity into the surroundings. If low levels of radiation were confirmed as dangerous, the public would be outraged. The government was cornered. To safeguard its nuclear programs, the government had to deny the hazard of low-level radiation. The government’s position on low-level radiation was aptly summarized by Lieutenant General Harry A. Griffith, the director of the Defense Nuclear Agency during the Reagan administration, when he testified in the early 1980s before Congress on the subject of compensation to victims injured by the nation’s nuclear weapons initiative:

“[Griffith] recited a litany of possible horrors should compensation be granted. Griffith testified that relief measures for the offsite population would result in a lowering of current radiation health standards, thus endangering the continued operation of academic research programs, medical and dental procedures, nuclear power plants, industrial radiology, nuclear ships, and the nuclear weapons program.

General Griffith also said that to encourage “the erroneous impression” that low levels of radiation were a health hazard would disrupt these programs in four ways. First, claims would be filed against the government and private industry that would place “a heavy burden” on these entities to disprove. Second, nuclear workers would become more difficult to recruit, and ‘the potential loss of manpower would stagnate the nuclear program.” Third, compensation under existing health standards would result in those standards being lowered and “essential activities could be continued only with greatly increased cost while others could not be continued at all.” And fourth, legislative and judicial recognition that low levels of radiation were hazardous “would increase the anxiety of the general public — itself an undesirable phenomenon — and thereby increase resistance to productive and necessary programs” [5].


[1] Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), San Francisco Operations Office. Biomedical Studies Planned for AEC’s Livermore Laboratory. Press Statement. May 31, 1963.

[2] Wasserman H., Solomon N., Alvarez R., Walters E. Killing Our Own. New York: Dell Publishing Co.; 1982.

[3] Durakovic A. Undiagnosed Illnesses and Radioactive Warfare. Croatian Medical Journal. 2003; 44(5):520-532.

[4] Gould J.M., Goldman B.A. Deadly Deceit: Low Level Radiation, High Level Cover-Up. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows; 1990.

[5] Fradkin P.L. Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy. Tucson: University of Arizona Press; 1989.