The Forgotten Nuclear Accidents at Chalk River – by MÉLISSA GUILLEMETTE (The Walrus – July 13, 2022)


The world’s first serious nuclear accident occurred in Ontario in 1952, followed by a second incident there in 1958. A look back at these events now that the federal government is compensating workers who took part in cleanup efforts.

GEORGE KIELY IS at a loss for words. On a July morning in 2021, I phone to get his reaction to the federal budget tabled three months earlier. One measure had caught my eye: $22.3 million set aside for several hundred workers who cleaned up Chalk River Laboratories after two nuclear accidents in the 1950s. I hadn’t known about these incidents.

Kiely knows them all too well. He and other retired employees of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a Crown corporation, had fought for thirteen years for some form of recognition for the risks they faced during the accidents. Before my call, he hadn’t heard that their efforts had paid off. I am as puzzled as he is.

After a long pause, he mentions his friend and former coworker Al Donohue, who is ninety-two. “I hope we live long enough to get the reward,” says Kiely, who is eighty-nine.

THIS STORY BEGINS at the Université de Montréal. During the Second World War, the university housed a secret laboratory set up through an alliance between Canada, Britain, and the United States. Several hundred researchers and technicians conducted nuclear research there.

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