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Testifying Before Congress on Radiation Effects

GOFMAN: Senator [Edmund] Muskie [(D., Minnesota)] was holding some hearings on the underground uses of nuclear energy. His aide in Washington had asked if I'd come and testify. He didn't know about this whole paper I'd given, so I essentially upgraded the thing Tamplin and I had done and went back to testify before Muskie's committee. Senator Mike Gravel was there from Alaska and he turned out to be a real friend. Muskie was very friendly. But then it was pretty sure we'd better call that number 13,000 cancer deaths, not 16,000. We'd been wavering before that.

Ed Bowser was the Secretary on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. This is also very important for you two to know. The Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was as aristocratic as you can get. Ed Bowser came into Muskie's hearing room and he said, "Can you come over to the Joint Committee Headquarters? The Chairman wants to see you." That's Chet Holifield, [U.S.] Representative from California. The Chairmanship of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy alternated: one session [it would be a] Senator, next would be a House Representative. They went back and forth. Holifield was the chairman.

So I said, "Sure, I can come over," and said, "Tamplin is in town with me." "Oh, bring him along, by all means." So we went over to the Headquarters and went through secret passages in the Congressional Building. They were up there in the Green Room; all very secret. There were a number of people from the Joint Committee staff there. I remember one guy by the name of Dr. Graham; he was friendly.

Chet Holifield and Craig Hosmer of the Joint Committee came in and Holifield turned to me and said, "Just what the hell do you two think you're doing, getting all those little old ladies in tennis shoes up in arms about our atomic energy program?" I said, "I don't think we're doing that Mr. Holifield. We were doing our job." This guy Graham said, "Mr. Holifield, these are two of our distinguished scientists from the Livermore Lab."

Holifield said, "I don't give a damn who they are: They are hurting the atomic energy program." He said, "listen, I've been told that if we gave everybody in this country one hundred times the dose that's allowed, nobody would be hurt." I said, "Well, Mr. Holifield, that doesn't agree with anything we've learned about this question. That sounds like a horrible dose. Where did you hear this?" He said, "The Atomic Energy Commissioners told me that."

I said, "Well, Mr. Holifield, I'll look into it. I'm surprised, but that doesn't square with our findings." He said, "That's what they told me." Then he turned to me and said, "There are people like you who have tried to hurt the Atomic Energy Commission program before. We got them, and we'll get you." He didn't mean to kill us, but he meant they could take care of our reputation. That's a long story.
HEFNER: This is a Congress person?
GOFMAN: Yes, the Chairman of the Joint Committee and the Representative in the House of Representatives-from California, no less.
HEFNER: Threatening you?
GOFMAN: Yes. We went back on the airplane, [and] I said to Tamplin, "Where the hell do you think the commissioners got this stuff? Is Chet Holifield telling it straight that he was told that 100 times the dose wouldn't hurt anybody." He said, "I don't know." So we went through everything we could and we found one thing that could be the basis of it.

Namely [that] Robley Evens at MIT was continuing to [study] the dial painters. He had published stuff saying he saw no harm down under a thousand rads-not a rad, under a thousand rads. The commissioners were obviously referring to Robley Evans [and] the dial painters [from the 1920s].

There were plenty of things wrong with this thousand-rad safe threshold. [(My later studies show there were many allusions to 500 or more rads being "safe"-in addition to Robley Evans'.)] But there was that basis [and others], and they did misinform Holifield. By then, newspaper people were getting interested in the whole thing. CBS [television news] decided to have [a] week-long set of five morning sessions on radiation hazards and we were on five of them, and commissioners were on [some of] them.

What we had said in our paper was, "We ought to think of cutting the allowable dose tenfold," and the AEC said this was awful. The [AEC] said, "We're never going to give people even one millirad, let alone a hundred seventy millirads." I said, "Then you got no problem; we're suggesting cutting it to 17." Then they would turn around and say, "We don't know if that's enough of a cushion." They didn't make any sense at all.

Everybody who was anybody realized the Atomic Energy Commissioners were getting their feet in deeper and deeper in this whole controversy. Glenn Seaborg has written a book recently, [in] which he says exactly that. I'll tell you about that in a little bit.

That's when things really started happening. We were on these TV programs. CBS morning show, lots of newspaper articles and the Saturday Evening Post, and somebody asked John Totter what he thought of our work. He said, "It's ludicrous, just nothing correct about it at all."
GOURLEY: I read criticisms: John Gofman's sloppy work, bad statistics. What you do have to say about these things?
GOFMAN: [What I have to say is that whatever rubbish you are reading is undocumented bull_ _ _ _.] It just became a war. It just became a war as far as they were concerned. They were going to destroy us.

A couple of interesting things happened. I wrote a letter to Glenn Seaborg. I said, "Glenn, you['ve] got some rotten apples in that barrel. Your staff attacks on us are going to hurt you. It's going to hurt the atomic energy program. It's going to hurt us. It's just going to discredit everything." I said, "I think you ought to do something about it. We are doing exactly the job we were assigned to do."

He wrote back and said, "Look, the way we do things is, we don't reach down into the departments. You're going to have to solve this with John Totter." There was no solving it with John Totter. He was continuing to attack us, as were others in the Commission. Glenn did not attack publicly; this came later.

I heard back from the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Bowser called me up and said, "The Chairman is inviting you to a hearing. We're going to discuss your work." That was the plan. The standard plan for destroying you was to hold a hearing where people from all over the Commission come in and address the issues that you are raising.

I just realized we'd better have a lot more ammunition. Art Tamplin and I worked our butts off and we did about 14 separate papers. They're referred to as the "GT" [(Gofman-Tamplin)] documents and they were all eventually published in the Congressional Record.

So, we had 178 pages of testimony. I said to Bowser, "Tell the Chairman I need about three hours to testify." He said, "Three hours, we've never given anyone over an hour!" So I said, "I think I need three hours; I have a lot to say." He said, "Well, I'll talk to the Chairman." He comes back, calls me up, and says, "You have one hour. The Chairman says that if there's more that you have to talk about, we'll schedule some more hearings."

So we had 178 pages of scientific stuff and I took it over to the Information Division at Livermore Lab. They nearly had a conniption fit. They had heard all the flack about this. Roger Batzel came running over to see me. We've always maintained a open dialog in spite of everything. He said, "What's going on here? Why do you need this 178 pages of stuff and you want 250 copies?" I said, "Yes, Roger. Chet Holifield has invited me to speak at a hearing of the Joint Committee," and I said, "If you don't want to do it, I'll call Holifield's office and tell him the Lab has decided not to permit me to prepare this material for you, Mr. Holifield." He said, "Oh no, no, don't do that. We'll do it." So I got the 250 [copies], of which I sent 100 to scientists around the country, thinking it might be a good idea to have a copy out in some other people's hands.

We went in and I presented the thing. I thought they were going to just tear it apart. Holifield said, "Well, you submitted so much material. We haven't had time to go over it. We'll call you back. Do nothing until you hear from me." So we never heard again from Holifield.

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