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Concern Over Low-Dosage Harm; Public Acceptance of Nuclear Energy

GOURLEY: How much dosage do you think you've accumulated?
GOFMAN: About 100 rads. People would say, "How come you're living?" If you read any of my papers, then you'd know why. Even at a 100 R it causes a lot of harm and a lot of cancers. More people would escape the harm than would get harmed on a statistical basis.

But I consider myself pretty lucky. Two guys there at Rad Lab, Joe Hamilton and Bert Low-Beer, weren't so lucky. They were both guys who took a lot of radiation and both died of an early leukemia. So, I feel that every decade I pass is just amazing to me. I didn't expect to live.

I consider the whole approach on permissible doses of the poison is illegal, dishonest, and I can tell you the proof of my position is really what the vast majority of the public believes is this. The vast majority of the public does not know I exist. But I can tell you that proof that the vast majority of the public would agree with me. It's the fact that AEC and ERDA[45] and the Department of Energy are desperately frightened by anybody knowing that there is no safe dose of radiation. Because why are they are frightened? Because they know damn well you cannot sell poison to the public.
GOFMAN: Just tell people, "But we're going to give your children radiation. Some of your children are going to have a defective heart and some of them are going to come out with only part of their brain. But think nothing of it, our atomic power program is great." You sell that; where?
GOURLEY: Now you've been quoted on a lot of things: "There's no safe dose."
GOFMAN: [You bet I have, and I am correct]. There is no safe way.
GOURLEY: What about [natural] background [radiation]?
GOFMAN: What about it? I've talked about background a lot. Background is roughly one-tenth of a roentgen per year of external background, leaving aside radon. It is my opinion, background is causing just as many cancers and genetic injuries as I've calculated for any man-made radiation. Look, the Lord did not say, "I'm going to set in a certain amount of background that is okay and make it safe." I know of nothing that came down from the mountain that guarantees that safety. I believe background radiation is just as harmful as any other kind of radiation.

By the way, I'd like to address another point. What about genetic repair? We do indeed have repair systems. DNA repair, chromosome repair, those are real things that do operate. John Gofman never said repair doesn't operate. What I've done in four chapters of my 1990 book (a copy of which I'd be happy to give you), in chapters 18, 19, 20, and 21, I finally was able to do a thing I've been thinking about for 20 years, namely to test the idea of whether it's possible for there to be a safe dose.

I concluded, by nuclear track analysis through cells, that cancer has been produced down as low as one track through a cell, [one] radiation track. Karoline, there is no lower dose than one track. Either [you] have a track going through a cell or you don't. There's no little bit of it. Since cancer has been produced with one track, there is not any safe dose and it can't be.

People said, "What about repair?" Great. The only difficulty about repair is, a lot of the damage that radiation does is repaired. But there's a certain [amount] of damage not repaired. A certain amount of the damage is unrepairable by the mechanisms we have and a certain amount of the damage is misrepaired.

All [of] the cancers and all the genetic injuries perceived are due to those three residual things: the unrepaired, the unrepairable, and the misrepaired injury. I wouldn't be surprised if something like 90 percent of damage is repaired and we [are] darn lucky to have repair systems.

Background doesn't phase me: There is no safe dose.
GOURLEY: You think it would surprise some of your critics to hear you say that the background doesn't phase you?
GOFMAN: You might say the argument doesn't phase me. I didn't mean that background is all right. No, it doesn't phase me to have you say, "What about background?"
GOURLEY: I'm just learning.
GOFMAN: It's a very good question. I've been asked it many times. I can show you in an extended thing how it is so easily possible to get the wrong answer on questions like this. Even well-meaning people can get the wrong answer. A certain number of times if you set the experiment up, you're guaranteed to get the wrong answer. So it doesn't surprise me that there are a lot of sincere people out there who really believe I'm wrong.
GOURLEY: For example?
GOFMAN: Sincere people who really believe I'm wrong? I really don't know any of them.
GOURLEY: Are there any particular judges?

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