John Gofman

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John Gofman : biography

September 21, 1918 – August 15, 2007

After a speech Gofman gave on nuclear waste at a national conference of activists in the summer of 1990, Charles Butler approached him for help. Butler was a retired physicist living in the Mojave Desert town of Needles, California, and was looking for help to stop the proposed low-level nuclear waste facility at Ward Valley, California. Gofman referred him to the Abalone Alliance Clearinghouse in San Francisco. With less than two weeks before the closure of the Environmental Impact Statement, the Alliance was able to mount a letter writing campaign that helped delay the EIS for an additional 90 days. This initial delay gave activists the time to form Don’t Waste California and build a grassroots campaign that eventually stopped Ward Valley from opening.

Gofman also did work on the Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

At Livermore

Dr. Gofman established the Biomedical Research Division for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1963. In 1964, 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 at a symposium for nuclear scientists and engineers. This helped start a national inquiry into the safety of atomic power. With his colleague 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 research on radiation’s influences on human chromosomes. The two scientists suggested that federal safety guidelines for low-level exposures be reduced by 90 percent in 1969. The Atomic Energy Commission contested the findings, and "the furor made Dr. Gofman a reluctant figurehead of the anti-nuclear movement" according to The New York Times. In 1970, he testified in favor of a bill to ban commercial nuclear reactors in New York City and told the City Council that a reactor in an urban environment would be "equal in the opposite direction to all the medical advances put together in the last 25 years."

Legacy

Gofman promoted a linear no-threshold model for the dangers of radiation, suggesting that even small doses over time could prove harmful. His 1981 book Radiation and Human Health expounded on this and gave prediction tables for how much average life expectancy might be affected by radiation.

Awards

  • Gold-Headed Cane Award, University of California Medical School, 1946, presented to the graduating senior who most fully personifies the qualities of a "true physician."
  • Modern Medicine Award, 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; lecture published in 1966 as "Ischemic Heart Disease, Atherosclerosis, and Longevity," in Circulation 34: 679-697.
  • The Stouffer Prize (shared) 1972, for outstanding contributions to research in arterioslerosis.
  • American College of Cardiology, 1974; selection as one of twenty-five leading researchers in cardiology of the past quarter-century.
  • University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library, 1988; announcement of the "Gofman Papers" established in the History of Science and Technology Special Collection (October 1988, Bancroftiana, No. 97: 10-11).
  • Right livelihood Award, 1992
  • Honored Speaker for the Meeting of the Arteriosclerosis Section of the American Heart Association, 1993