|The public policy video "Radioactive Berkeley: No Safe Dose" premiered at the Berkeley City Council in December of 1996. Featured speaker Dr. John Gofman M.D, Ph.D. addresses the medical impacts of low-level radiation exposure. The video also expressed a public concern over children visiting the Lawrence Hall of Science to exposure to tritium emissions from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory's Tritium Labeling Facility. Produced by L A Wood and Carolyn Erbele. Labor donated
"No Safe Dose" was also viewed by numerous regulatory agencies including USEPA and was instrumental in establishing the stakeholders group dubbed the Tritium Issue Workgroup or TIWG in 1997. TIWG met at the Federal Building in Oakland for nearly two years. From the very beginning, Berkeley community members of the workgroup experienced many problems with the LBNL workgroup. This eventually forced community participants to walk out on the corrupted process. Four years later the facility was finally closed.
ALSO SEE: Answers
to Frequently-Asked-Questions about "Radiation"
1996 John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. & Egan O'Connor, Executive Director
SCRIPT: Radioactive Berkeley: No Safe
My name is John Gofman, and. I am both a physician and a nuclear physical
chemist. I have a long association with the university (the University
of California at Berkeley) and did my Ph.D. work under Glen Seaborg.
Which led to the discovery of Uranium-233. Which he labeled a 50 quadrillion
dollar discovery! After the war, I came back to the campus as an assistant
professor where my colleagues and I did the original work on lipoproteins
and heart disease research. And I am continuing my work in radiation.
What is the order of magnitude of the problem that’s been created
by radiation in the twentieth century? Today, manmade activities, added
up in total, exceed those from natural radiation.
Every increment that we add to the natural radiation will exact its
price in human health. And human health in respect to some very miserable
diseases such as genetic diseases and heart disease and cancer.
About 50% of all cancers in the twentieth century have been caused by
ionizing radiation of the type we would call low level. Recently I wrote
a book on the subject of breast cancer and stated my best estimate,
backed up by considerable evidence, is that about three quarters of
all the breast cancers in the twentieth century were induced by ionizing
radiation of one sort or another, including medical. This is not a small
problem, and we therefore need to give attention to every source of
low level radiation exposure to the public.
I am Dave McGraw, the director of the Environmental Health and Safety
Division. The national laboratory here in Berkeley (LBNL) is a treasure
and it’s doing work that is completely invaluable, and really
can’t be done other places. The tritium facility’s been
here—it’s a national facility supported by the National
Institute of Health—since 1982, although tritium labeling was
occurring back in 1962.
When you do a health assessment, you try and assess the risk in various
zones relative to your environment. We’ve assessed that risk in
the three zones. What we call Zone 1, shown on the map, is largely limited
to the basin where the tritium facility is. So, summing up then, from
our risk assessment and from our monitoring efforts, we’re convinced
that exposures are well below international, federal and state guidelines
Drury: (Citizens for a Better Environment, CBE)
What the representatives failed to tell you is that the laboratory has
for at least one year, maybe longer, had information that their tritium
contamination above the facility is much higher than on what they base
their risk assessment. A recent investigation by Laetitia Menchaca analyzing
tritium in transpired vapor from plants at LBNL suggests that there
may be significant amounts of tritium in the upper, non-saturated soil
I am Marian Fulk from Livermore, a retiree from the laboratory, of 20
years there. And many years I worked on Raynoc, that’s the effect
of, on people, animals, plants, when bombs go off. I spent a lot of
time looking at the question of low level radiation and its damage to
people, animals, and what not. People walking through that area: these
trees transpire tritiated water. It will be tritiated water after a
while; it gets transformed fairly quickly. When you breathe it, a hundred
percent of the tritiated water gets absorbed into the system. Not only
that, but if you took your clothes off, and walked through the same
atmosphere, you would absorb darn near the same amount of tritiated
water through your skin.
Most of the tritium is on a uranium bed very tightly, tightly bound
to the uranium bed, and only tiny amounts are allowed to come off that
bed as the reactions are done. We believe our data shows that we are
not delivering any dose whatsoever to the people living in the community.
…has shown that the levels exceed the EPA by several times.
In the early days of the postwar period, when radioactivity became available
in large quantities as a result of the existence of nuclear reactors,
many people working in the field said, “Well, what dose can we
allow people to have which will be safe? I wrestled with this question
for over twenty years. In 1986, in a talk about Chernobyl, I presented
to the American Chemical Society my initial calculations which said
there cannot be a safe dose, because at the lowest possible dose, which
is one radiation track through a cell, I have proved that cancer is
Well, in the scientific community I think you’re always going
to have some disagreement about what these numbers mean and how these
number were set. My point in telling you that is that we will always
have a general disagreement from the scientific community about these
Many people thinking about tritium say, “Oh, we don’t have
to worry about tritium! The energy of the radiation is so low that we
don’t even need to think about it.” It is true that the
energy of each beta particle emitted by tritium is very low. But there’s
you have a very low energy bata particle interact with biological tissue
to produce damage to genes, the damage to chromosomes, and the risk
of future cancer. . . .Well, the lower the energy of the radiation,
the worst it is in terms of biological hazard.
Tritium is five times as hazardous as bomb radiation for the same total
amount of energy given. I don’t think any person who’s reasonable
at all can doubt that I have demonstrated there is no safe dose!
I have shown with a multitude of studies that we get cancer down to
the lowest doses. Now, that been resisted, but let me tell you something—it
has been resisted, but the United Nations Scientific Committee in 1993
has come out and joined me in exactly the same analysis. Their conclusion:
there is no safe dose. In 1995, the National Radiological Protection
Board of Great Britain has come out with the same sort of analysis.
If we look at the site we’re talking about, the hillside above
the lab, on the top of that hillside is the Lawrence Hall of Science.
The maximally exposed individual to the tritium contamination is a child
on the observation deck at the Lawrence Hall of Science.
Lots and lots of children, lots of school children are on the deck during
the course of the year. The stack from the Lab that’s emitting
the tritium is approximately 100 feet from those kids. That’s
were the highest levels of contamination are.
I’d like to mention, if I might, so many diseases in the children
that are caused by low level radiation. It’s terrible. And there’s
a lot of them. It takes 1% of the live born infants, 10% admissions
in pediatric hospitals, 8.5% of children’s death, and they cause
about 7% of stillborn. These are genetic diseases. I cannot overemphasize
that there is no safe amount of radiation particularly for ? and ? damage
to DNA. When you talk about limits, these limits are not like speed
limits that you go up to, if not above. That limit is a disaster level,
and they are no means tolerable.
The question comes up often in people’s minds, “Are all
people equally sensitive to radiation in the form of injuries from radiation?
And the answer is no. The children are most sensitive with respect to
the generation of cancer and leukemia from radiation. A study of breast
cancer in Hiroshima with radiation from the bomb has shown that children
and girls under 20—women under 20—are the most sensitive
to breast cancer generation, and beyond 40 even less sensitive. And
when I say they are, I am not speculating. That’s a fact, and
the sensitivity of the young being greater means we should exercise
every precaution that we protect our children from sources of radiation,
no matter how small.
I talked to experts on that issue at the University of California at
Berkeley, at Stanford University, at the University of California in
San Francisco, and to these experts’ knowledge in breast cancer
epistemology, they see no connection between tritium exposure and breast
cancer, no compelling data, and I must re-emphasize again to get the
disease that you need a dose, you need exposure. We do not believe there
is any exposure.
If it’s in the trees, the groundwater, and what not, people are
getting some exposure in the neighborhood, and probably through the
If you look at where the contamination goes from there, it mixes with
creek water and goes down the hillside and ends up in Strawberry Creek,
goes right through UC Berkeley, and right through the town. And essentially,
what is occurring is LBL is poisoning the community and has thus far
managed to evade the process of reporting that.
We don’t think it is possible to have zero emissions. We have
a comprehensive program for monitoring. We recently upgraded that monitoring
program so we know at every moment how much tritium is being emitted
into the environment. We believe our data shows that we are not delivering
any dose whatsoever to the people living in the community.
We need to remember that the work of the Lawrence Lab and laboratories
like that throughout the country, is for service to the public. And
therefore service to the public should be done with the utmost concern
for the public’s safety and health.
I was a colleague and personal friend of Ernest Lawrence, and I feel
that I honor his memory and his devotion to health and to public service
when I say, “I am in favor of research proceeding at the Lawrence
Berkeley National Laboratory provided that the Lab meets the demand
of the public for protection. Not vi-a-versa. With enough good will
the needs of the Lab and the public both can be met, but the needs of
the public come first”