In your article (Feb. 6), "Shuttle: Nuclear Cargo Seen as a Risk," you quote extensively the opinions of Dr. John Gofman, who is a retired professor of medical physics at University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Gofman is a well known anti-nuclear activist.
There have been more than 5 tons of plutonium released into the atmosphere by the testing of nuclear weapons in the past and all without any significant effect on the world cancer rate. It has been calculated that these 5 tons of plutonium might result in 4,000 deaths worldwide over the next 50 years, or about 1 death in every 500,000 cancer deaths. Gofman's figures on the toxicity of plutonium are about 4,000 times greater than those obtained by other researchers.
When we consider the extraordinary precautions taken to prevent any release of the 50 pounds of plutonium aboard the space shuttle, the cancer risks are so small that Gofman's statement, "turn parts of Florida into an area that's uninhabitable," is a gross exaggeration.
WILLIAM H. SMITH