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Livermore Biomedical Department's Work on Fallout and Plowshare (1963-65)

GOURLEY: Could you describe some of the work and some of the programs?
GOFMAN: We had a number of people trying to find out things about the whole distribution of radioactivity in people and animals. Arthur Tamplin headed a part of our project, which was called [the] Information Division, pulling together all the world literature on this.

Another part of our program was to try to work steadily on unmasking the evidence concerning human radiation effects and try to build some generalized ideas of what the health effects of radiation were. I worked on that with Art [Tamplin].

Bernard Shore headed the Experimental Division, where there were all kinds of studies being done about radioisotope uptake in animals. We had an animal farm there at Livermore, as a matter of fact.

So, everything was dedicated [for the Lab to know] at the cellular level about metabolism of radionuclides [and] about radiation effects [on] the analytical level, taking all the information from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, from studies of women who had TB [(tuberculosis)] and later developed breast cancer. Alice Stewart's studies. Court-Brown and Doll were publishing on the people who had been treated with massive doses of x ray for a disease ankylosing spondylitis.[40] It's a form of arthritis of the spine. X rays helped that disease, but they were getting cancers and that was being published. So on the back burner, Tamplin and I were trying to pull all this stuff together.
GOURLEY: What was on the front burner?
GOFMAN: Front burner were all the things out at [the] Nevada Test Site [and] the animal data [from] the work in the lab. Everything went fine. One of the first projects, [was] to investigate, as an offshoot of Sedan, whether we should dig a Panama Canal with 300 one-megaton hydrogen bombs. That was Edward Teller's favorite baby. We went out there in '63 and we were doing a lot of consideration.
GOURLEY: The Sedan Shot was July-?
GOFMAN: About '62, I think.
GOFMAN: So we were doing an evaluation of Plowshare[41] explosives, and in particular, the idea of the Panama Canal. The Directors' meetings were every Thursday morning and the 10 of us got together with John Foster-who then, by the way, went off to Washington in spite of fact that he was never going to [go to] Washington.

Michael May became the Director of the Lab. I had very good relations with Mike May. Everything was fine.

Within three months of being at Livermore, I got a call from Chuck Dunham in Washington. He said, "Can you come in next Tuesday?" I said, "What's up[, Chuck]?" He said, "I can't discuss it on the phone, but would you come in?" I said, "Yes."

I went to Washington. Five others and [I] were there. None of us knew what Chuck wanted. He said, "We have one hell of a problem. We got this guy Harold Knapp in our department here in Washington Biology and Medicine. Harold Knapp has done some calculations about Utah. He calculates out that the doses some of those people got from radioiodine seem like a hundred times what we said anybody could get." Dunham said, "He wants to publish it." So we said, "So?"

He said, "Look, if Harold Knapp publishes that, all of us at AEC are going to [be] made out to be liars. We cannot tolerate that." We said, "What do you want us to do?" [Dunham said,] "I want you to talk to this guy and see if you can change his mind about publishing it."

Here I [had been] three months before, Chuck Dunham was sitting in back of the room, listening to me say, "I'm not going to be manipulated." And here he is with a request that we help him manipulate somebody else!

Harold Knapp came in the room and Dunham left. Boy! Knapp was just bristling. He told the six of us in the group to go to hell! We said, "Hey, calm down. Dunham just asked us to look over your work." When he had calmed down, we just checked his work. That wasn't so unusual for a group to look at a specific thing.

He was very sound. I think [there were] a couple of minor points that someone suggested; he agreed it [was] a good change. [We told him,] "Go ahead and help your publisher report it." So, Knapp left. [Dunham] checked on us, came back in, and we said, "Well, Chuck, we can't find any reason why Harold Knapp shouldn't publish his paper." He was just beside himself. He said, "We're going to be a bunch of liars!" We said, "The AEC will weather this; they've weathered all kinds of storms before. Then, they'll weather this and it won't hurt a thing and just go ahead." So he did.

The sky didn't fall on the AEC. I think these bureaucracies, nothing ever affects them. But here is the first time, three months after I'd gotten there, they're asking me [to] help a cover-up. But that all died down. Knapp published his report.

Then in about 1965, I decided that I ought to talk at the Directors' meeting on the Panama Canal. I said, "The conclusion of our Biomedical Division is: The idea of digging the Panama Canal with hydrogen bombs is biological insanity."

Edward Teller was unhappy but nobody else said a word about it. I got a little flack later in the Lab with hearing rumors that "Gofman was the enemy within," because the Lab was dedicated to the Plowshare program.
GOURLEY: Now what about Project Chariot? There were some biological studies associated with that, too?
GOFMAN: I don't remember anything that we had to do with [that]. There were these tests in Alaska; I just don't remember details about that. But we had that test in Colorado breaking up some natural gas formations underground with nuclear bombs. There was a lot of radioactivity [that] came out of those and I didn't think those were a good idea at all.

But most of that died with one thing, namely when the nuclear nonproliferation treaty was signed. All Plowshare activities had to cease because they figured the other signers would say, "Look, you say that's for peaceful nuclear explosions, but how do [we] know that it's not for weapons tests?" So they quit all the projects associated with Plowshare. Plowshare just died in 1965-66, as far as I remember anything about it. We certainly didn't hear any more about the Canal.
GOURLEY: I wasn't sure that some of treaties just got rid of aboveground testing-
GOFMAN: The underground stuff, that was a separate treaty. The [Limited] Test Ban Treaty, signed in 1963, got rid of the aboveground testing, and permitted the underground.

But you couldn't test underground on a Plowshare program; that was just a way of covering up the weapons testing. That was a little later. So we weathered the Plowshare thing.

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