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Establishing Livermore Laboratory's Division of Biology and Medicine (1962)

GOURLEY: Should we follow through with that or go to Livermore? Let's get on to Livermore.[36] What brought you to Livermore and to DBM (Division of Biology and Medicine) there?
GOFMAN: Well, in 1953, after the Livermore Lab was established, Ernest Lawrence called me up to his office and said, "Jack, you're the only person [in the] Rad Lab family that is both a chemist and a physician. I'm afraid that the 100 or so guys [who] have gone out from Berkeley to Livermore; Herb York and others who set it up, are going to hurt themselves."

I don't know if you know about it [but] Ernest was an absolute bear on safety in the lab. He believed in it. He said, "If you go out there a couple days a week, as my personal representative, nose around in everything. If you don't like what you see, tell them how to change it, and there's no use going to anybody else because you're speaking for Ernest Lawrence." So I said, "Sure, I'll go there."
GOURLEY: What sorts of things were you looking for?
GOFMAN: Mishandling of hot materials from Nevada without adequate protection. Not wearing their film badges while doing things. All violations of radiation safety, and there were many.

So, starting in late '53 or early '54, I went out to Livermore a couple of days a week. In order to hang my hat, I decided I'd organize the industrial medical department. I became the medical director for Livermore. Industrial medicine, not research.

So, all the new examinations, new hires, people leaving, or whatever, going out to the Pacific for a test, all the exams before and after, all came through me. But that was just a place to hang my hat. What I'd do was go around to [see] what the physicists were doing, or the chemists and somebody was handling some hot materials without their film badge. I'd say, "Where is your film badge?" and they'd say, "Over in the drawer in the other building." And I'd say, "Why?" and they'd say, "I can't get the job done if I'm wearing the film badge; I'll get overexposed." So I had to raise hell with them.

At any rate, in the course of that, there are [a] lot of questions that came up among the weaponers. I got to know them.
GOURLEY: What were some of the questions?
GOFMAN: Oh, you know, people were criticizing them about the carbon-14 and about tritium[37] and that they were releasing [during] the test. Was it really this bad? And so I would help them with calculations, [including] John Foster who was in the Weapons Division. So I got to know all the weaponers, [such as] Herb York-
GOURLEY: Teller?[38]
GOFMAN: Oh sure, I knew him too. I knew him a lot more later. But that wasn't my research function at Livermore.

I brought Max Biggs, who had gotten his Ph.D. with me and he was Assistant Director of Medicine there. I did it [un]til 1957, at which time Max took over completely and I didn't go out to Livermore anymore.

Then things moved up to 1962, John Foster had become the Director of Livermore Lab and I knew him from those earlier days [when] I helped him. He called me up one day, and said, "Will you come out here to see me?" So I did. "We have a peculiar request. We got a request from the Atomic Energy Commission to see if [we] would set up a Biomedical Research Division here at Livermore."

He said, "What do you think of the idea?" I said, "Biomedical division at Livermore?" I said, "The AEC's got 18 or 19 Labs already; why a biomedical division at Livermore?" He said, "Well, look, they don't say it, but I know what the reason is." We had this huge series of tests in Nevada. By the way, when Khrushchev broke the voluntary moratorium on testing, [President] John Kennedy gave the Labs an order: "Put on a spectacular show." That was just one. They did.

But the trouble was that the milk network was by then, in '62, much more in place, and Utah was getting clobbered with radioiodine. Of course, it became a real flap in Utah, and of course the Federal Radiation Council solved it by announcing that the safe level of radioiodine in milk was three times higher that they thought. That just took care of it! John [Foster] said that the commissioners were just getting flack thrown at them from all over and they're on the hot seat.
GOURLEY: Where was the flack coming from?
GOFMAN: Utah downwinders. So I said, "They're getting a lot of flack from Utah. What in the world has that got to do with setting up a biomedical division at Livermore?"

He said, "Some of the commissioners feel that if we, who are making the bombs and setting them off in Nevada, had some biomedical advice, maybe they wouldn't get caught flatfooted with things like the scandal in Utah."

I said, "But Johnny, what are you going to do if you start the biomedical division and you set off bombs in Utah? Could a biomedical division prevent fallout from coming down?" I said, "It's crazy, you can't do it."

He said, "Well, aren't there some things you can do?" and we talked about [it].

I agreed that one of the things that could be done would be to examine all the new bombs and look at them. If you got iron in this position, it gets a hell of a lot of neutrons in radiation. Couldn't it be better if you substituted aluminum or something like that? You might thereby cut down the amount of fallout that would occur in some of these bomb tests. I said, "[A] biomedical division isn't going to stop the problem of fallout, except in maybe making it less."

So, Johnny said, "Do you think fallout is important?" I said," Yes, the cancer and genetic effects of the fallout are very important. Aside from heart disease, it's the most important problem in medicine, as I look at things."
GOURLEY: You are basing that opinion, then, on what?
GOFMAN: The fallout?
GOFMAN: There was enough evidence to be very worried about the fallout. Linus Pauling[39] had made calculations that indicated that we might have caused a lot of potential cancers and genetic defects for what had already been done in worldwide testing. In 1956 and '58, Alice Stewart had written on the fact that just about half a rad to a rad [received by] children in utero was enough to give a big excess of 50 percent [increased risk] of cancer in the first 10 years of life. So a lot of things [were] coming up. So, I said, "Johnny, the way I live my life is, I decided to work on big medical problems. As I don't understand anything other than [that], if I'm not working on heart disease then I want to work on cancer and genetic injuries-because those are the big things that kill people by the millions prematurely."

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