On this day, 9 August 2015, the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, I am reflecting on the legacy of this bomb and the one dropped on Hiroshima mere days earlier. The devastation of these bombs on Japan and the world created nightmare visions of the destruction of the world, and set the stage for the madness we see today when nations do all they can to secure the nuclear technology to create their own nuclear arsenals and military delivery systems. When I see the Japanese people today remembering the loss of life and the impact it had on its culture and warrior class beliefs and practices such as the bushido code, as well as the reverence for the emperor, to what the nation of Japan has become, I can well understand the common people and their pacifist leanings and beliefs. These pacifist views had no place to be expressed in Japan in 1945.
It has become known since the Second World War the Japanese were well on their way to developing their own nuclear weapon. They were weeks away, even days away from doing so when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and when the second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese Navy scientists, secretly working in North Korea, these scientists knew they were too late to make a difference. What is astounding to believe, is when you hear scientists speaking and revealing that they did not think their scientific research and discoveries would be used for military means of death and destruction.
I did my own research, reading and discovery of the development of the bomb, that goes back to my high school years. My good friend Neil and I would read and exchange information on what we read and often discussed NATO and the nuclear deterrent to the threats posed by the USSR in Europe and North America. Neil was and still is an aircraft buff like no other. We both built model aircraft, and loved discussing Word War 2 and the Cold War. We were passionate about this era of history and our living in the Cold War era and the Viet Nam war time frame. I have come to change a great deal since that time. I have become an ardent pacifist and a strong advocate for complete and total nuclear disarmament.
So today, on this anniversary, I think about how Canada contributed to this nuclear madness we are in today.
I want to deal with Canada’s less than innocent role in developing the uranium that was used to build and deliver the bomb used on Hiroshima. Without Canada’s uranium, and the willing participation of Canadian scientists and the political machinery of the Canadian government, the USA would have had a much longer wait to developing the bomb. The bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have the indelible prints of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada all over it.
WE ARE NOT INNOCENTS to this development and its legacy.
C.D. Howe was put on the Combined Policy Committee which had 3 Americans, 2 British and 1 Canadian represented that worked in secret to develop the bomb, which was established by legal agreement in August 1943 in Quebec City. This tripartite project was a venture that began in 1940-41 when Britain brought over scientists and their secrets for nuclear fission so that they would not fall into German hands should the Germans invade Britain. By the time the bomb had dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, Canada was well aware of its role in the development of the bomb, as C.D. How himself said, “It is a distinct pleasure for me to announce that Canadian scientists have played a intimate part, and have been associated in an effective way with this great scientific development.” Three days later, a plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki.
That announcement was the first time Canadians heard about Canada’s uranium from Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories and scientists working in secret in Montreal had played a major role in the Anglo-Canadian-American Atomic Bomb Project.
On 11 October 1945, Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote in his diary, “How strange it is that I should find myself at the very centre of the problem, through Canada possessing uranium, having contributed to the production of the bomb, being recognized as one of the three countries to hold most of the secrets.”
In 1939 uranium was considered an unwanted waste product of radium mining. There were tons of the material lying around Port Hope, Ontario, where a refinery in the late 1930’s had been in operation to extract radium from ores from Great Bear Lake. Meanwhile in Germany, earlier that same year there were German scientists that proved uranium atoms could be split (fissioned), releasing energy. If a chain reaction could be achieved, that would make an “atomic bomb” a very real possibility. Later that same year, 1939, French scientists using Norwegian heavy water as a moderator, were working on trying to provoke a chain reaction. This group of scientists and their heavy water fled to England when France was invaded in 1940.
The British meanwhile in 1940 developed the means of enriching natural uranium, which was a slow and expensive process. The British reached out to the Americans for cooperation, and asked Canadians for uranium.
Everything changed after Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Americans became the controlling partner in this project for the bomb. Canada had no small part to play. Uranium for the worlds first atomic bombs was refined in Port Hope for the U.S. Army. At the beginning it came from Great Bear Lake, and later from the Congo. Some of the uranium used in for the Hirshima bomb was from Port Hope, and the plutonium used for the bomb at Nagasaki came from that which was enriched at the Hanford B reactor, one of the world’s first nuclear reactors in Hanford, Washington. This very reactor was fuelled with natural unenriched uranium that had been refined at Port Hope. Inside this reactor, some of the uranium, 238 atoms were transmuted into plutonium 239 atoms. The spent fuel was then reprocessed and the plutonium was chemically extracted for use in the Trinity and Nagasaki bombs.
In 1942 the British moved their own plutonium-production research team to Montreal. Our Canadian government of the day paid for all the expenses and Canadian scientists joined the British team. This lab in Montreal focused on the best ways to produce plutonium for bombs. That earlier French group, they also joined the team and contributed their heavy water research to the project. It was known by this time that reactors moderated with heavy water would produce more plutonium.
In April 1944, a decision was made to build Canada’s first heavy water reactors at Chalk River, and that decision was made by the Combined Policy Committee, at a meeting in the office of the American Secretary of War. It was all top secret.
A nuclear chain reaction was first initiated in Canada on 5 September 1945 when the ZEEP reactor went into operation at Chalk River. This was originally a part of the project to produce military grade plutonium for nuclear weapons, and this reactor was designed by a joint team of Canadian, British and French scientists and engineers who first gathered in Montreal and Ottawa in 1942-43.
C.D. Howe did not stop with just this contribution. Howe offered the wide open spaces of Alberta as a test site for the new atomic bomb, but the Americans chose Los Alamos, New Mexico. It was a Los Alamos that all these scientists congregated together to create Trinity, the first atomic bomb.
Canada contributed to this “advancement” in technology and warfare.
The atomic bomb was tested successfully at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on 16 July 1945. On 6 August, the Enola Gay, the U.S. bomber plane, flew over Japan and dropped Fat Man, the first atomic bomb, over Hiroshima, a city of 340,000. Over 60% of the city was razed by the blast of the bomb, and 100,000 died immediately, while tens of thousands were dead of radiation poisoning within several months.
By the end of the Second World War, Canada had made significant contributions to the “nuclear age”. The team in Montreal had developed superior was and means of extracting plutonium and that knowledge assisted both the British and French in launching their own nuclear weapons programs.
After the war, the town on the shore of Great Bear Lake became known as the “village of widows” because so many of the men died of cancer from mining the uranium.
The knowledge gained by the British at Chalk River, enabled the British to develop their large military reprocessing plant at Windscale, and the first British nuclear bomb incorporated plutonium that was produced in Canada’s NRX reactor, which had started production in 1946.
For two decades, twenty years, after Hiroshima, Canada sold more plutonium produced in Chalk River reactors to the U.S. Military to help defray the cost of nuclear research. When Canada gave India a clone of the NRX reactor, India used it to produce plutonium for it’s own first atomic bomb test in 1974.
Since then, India has had five nuclear explosions and Pakistan has had six, which has only increased the risks of nuclear accidents or military uses of nuclear weapons. Israel has had a secret nuclear arms program since the 1960’s. Now we have Iran and North Korea working toward the same. The world is going mad.
And Canada has been a willing partner in creating this madness.
What baffles me today, is the public denial of our involvement in the development of nuclear weapons and the lack of public awareness that Canada hosted nuclear weapons on our own soil until 1984, and had the second most nuclear weapons on our soil, second only to West Germany. These weapons were not controlled by Canadians, but by the Americans, and our government willingly went along with it all.
Today, on this anniversary of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, I want Canadians to become active in eradicating the world of all nuclear bombs. I want Canada to declare to the United Nations that it will do all it can to remove the nuclear threat from our world forever.
This is how we need to atone for the sin of having so willingly created the first weapons of mass destruction. I no longer want this legacy for my children. I want a new legacy for my children and their children. I want a nuclear free zone, a global nuclear free zone. It is time to act.
Canada and The Bomb – http://www.ccnr.org/opinion_ge.html
New Agenda Coalition for the Elimination of Nuclear Arms – http://www.ccnr.org/opinion_ge.html
The World’s First Plutonium Production Reactor – http://www.ccnr.org/B_reactor.html
Canada and Weapons of Mass Destruction – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction
Canada’s History and Role in Nuclear Development – http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/eng/resources/fact-sheets/Canadas-contribution-to-nuclear-weapons-development.cfm
Mining For A Bomb – http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP14CH2PA3LE.html