Leo Goodman, 72, a career labor union activist who often was called the grandfather of the antinuclear movement, died of cancer Sept. 27 at his home in Washington.

Mr. Goodman liked to boast that he "kept the American labor movement antinuclear for 18 years," the period he worked as a feisty, document-laden secretary of the AFL-CIO's Atomic Energy Technical Committee. He was perhaps best known for pushing through government standards for worker exposure to radiation in 1969, but he had begun to worry about radiation before World War II.

He was outraged then by the nationwide scandal over women workers who had started to die from mouth cancer contracted when they worked painting radium on watch dials in the 1920s. They had sharpened their paintbrushes by twisting them between their lips before each stroke.

A native of Boston and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Goodman moved to Washington in 1934 to work for the New Deal checking regulatory compliance in shoe factories. Appalled at the conditions, he joined the United Shoe Workers.

He got into the nuclear issue in earnest in the late 1940s while trying to improve worker housing at Oak Ridge, Tenn., the site of a huge government nuclear complex and research center. Workers there were getting radiation sickness.

In 1947, Mr. Goodman went to work for Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers, setting up the AFL-CIO's Atomic Energy Technical Committee. "He was very articulate, learned, and way ahead of his time," recalled Tony Mazzochi, an official for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union. "He made sure we put 'atomic' in the title" when the union was formed, Mazzochi said, "and many of us who developed concerns about workplace environment and radiation got it from Leo."

In a recent interview, Mr. Goodman said his proudest achievement was persuading the union movement to back his opposition to the proposed fast breeder reactor at Detroit Edison's Monroe, Mich., plant site, which would have produced dangerous plutonium as well as electricity.

After Reuther's death in 1967, his more conservative successors eliminated Mr. Goodman's job. "If anything, I got more active," Mr. Goodman said.

Survivors include his wife, the former Elizabeth Miller, of Washington; two daughters, Joan Churchill, of Washington, and Lois Goodman, of Atlanta; and a son, Dr. Maury Charles, of Warrenville, Ill.