CBC Digital Archives

Canada and the atom

Using technology developed for atomic bombs, Canadian scientists hoped to bring safe, economical power to an energy-hungry world. By 1962, the first Candu (Canada Deuterium Uranium) reactor was powering Canadian homes, and Canada led the world in nuclear power generation technology. But Candu has fallen on hard times, faced with rising costs and serious environmental and ethical questions.

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In September 1945, Canadians have only seen the power of the atom three times: Los Alamos, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But at the National Research Council nuclear lab in Montreal, Que., atomic scientists give CBC Radio reporter J. Frank Willis a personal demonstration of how radioactivity works, and discuss what peacetime possibilities atomic power may hold for Canada's future.
• The United States detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945. The explosion and radiation from the bomb killed more than 140,000 by the end of the year. Three days later the United States dropped another bomb over Nagasaki, Japan. More than 70,000 died by the end of the year as a result. Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, ending the Second World War.

• J. Frank Willis was one of Canada's greatest radio reporters. He covered the 1936 Nova Scotia Moose River mine disaster. He produced many CBC Radio programs during the Second World War, including Nazi Eyes on Canada, where Hollywood actors Helen Hayes, Vincent Price and Orson Welles depicted what North America would be like if the Germans won the war. Willis is also known for his narration of the poems of Robert Service, including The Cremation of Sam McGee.

• Pitchblende, a radioactive material used in the experiments in this clip, is a heavy mineral ore containing radium and uranium, plus lead and other elements. Centuries ago, it was used in ceramic glazes and, because of its unusual weight, for doorstops. But pitchblende miners often came down with "mountain disease" - lung cancer from the radioactive emission of radon gas.

• In 1789, German chemist Martin Klaproth isolated uranium oxide from pitchblende. He named it after Uranus, which was the latest planet to be discovered.

• Radium was discovered in 1898 by Polish chemist Marie Curie and French chemist Pierre Curie. Marie Curie found that unrefined pitchblende was more radioactive than the uranium that was separated from it, and reasoned that it must contain another radioactive element. The research earned her a doctorate degree - the first awarded to a European woman - and two Nobel Prizes.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 20, 1945
Reporter: J. Frank Willis
Duration: 19:56
Photo: Rod Nave, Georgia State University's "HyperPhysics"

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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