Gofman, John W. 1918–2007

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Gofman, John W. 1918–2007

(John Gofman, John William Gofman)


See index for CA sketch: Born September 21, 1918, in Cleveland, OH; died of heart failure, August 15, 2007, in San Francisco, CA. Physician, chemist, physicist, educator, administrator, and author. Gofman is known as one of the earliest leaders of the ‘antinuclear’ movement, despite his own involvement in the isolation of uranium-233 and the production of plutonium at the University of California in Berkeley for the Manhattan Project in 1942. His objections to nuclear energy were not unequivocal, however—he acknowledged the value of nuclear missiles in times of war and recognized the importance of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels. What Gofman wanted was the responsible use of nuclear materials based on scientific research into their safety. To that end he was a founding chair of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility in 1971. His fight against the intemperate and irresponsible use of nuclear energy would eventually cost him his livelihood. Gofman began his career in medical research. His research on the link between cholesterol and heart disease was as controversial in the 1950s as his nuclear research would become later on, but in both cases his concerns were proven valid. In 1962 his focus moved from medicine to biochemistry and medical physics when he joined the faculty at the University of California and was appointed director of biomedical research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. One of Gofman's first projects was to study the safety of nuclear energy and atomic power. His research marked the beginning of a long and contentious debate with members of the Atomic Energy Commission and its subdivision, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Gofman's research showed that no level of exposure to radiation is completely safe, regardless of how it occurs, and he called for a moratorium on the development of nuclear power plants, particularly in heavily populated areas. Though Gofman's research earned him the respect of colleagues, including the Stouffer Prize of the Vernon Stouffer Foundation, his activism earned him many enemies, especially in government, and his grant support disappeared. Gofman left Livermore in 1973 but continued his research on the risks of nuclear power. He also studied the dangers of radiation in medicine, arguing that tomography and other diagnostic procedures are often overused and tend to deliver higher doses of radiation than are necessary. In retirement, much of Gofman's income came from his books. These include Dietary Prevention and Treatment of Heart Disease (1958), Population Control through Nuclear Pollution (1970), Poisoned Power: The Case against Nuclear Power Plants before and after Three Mile Island (1979), Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure: An Independent Analysis (1990), and Preventing Breast Cancer: The Story of a Major, Proven, Preventable Cause of This Disease (1995).



Chicago Tribune, August 27, 2007, sec. 3, p. 11.

Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2007, p. B8.

New York Times, August 26, 2007, p. A23.

Times (London, England), September 18, 2007, p. 66.

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Gofman, John W. 1918–2007

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