Note:  Answer the short question at the end of this  article…re  tomato soup

ARMED United States SAC (Strategic Air Command) B 52 nuclear bomber in flight.

Pebbly Conglomerate pillar preventing the ceiling of Can  Met Uranium Mine from collapsing…Elliot Lake,  Ontario 1960

alan skeoch
march  2019

Monday May 9, 1960

Reported  to the office today…long TTC  trip from west Toronto to 1490 O’connor  Drive.  Another summer in the bush no  doubt.
Last year in Western Alaska was a real adventure .   Two Sikorsky S52’s,  a 30-06 rifle and expected to know  how to run
a Turam Geophysical instrument.   Three big events that bowled me over.  

Where to this year?  Barrie Nichols told me over the phone to prepare for Arizona.  Hot place, I  thought. Full of snakes was the
next thought so I hot footed down to the library to bone up  on rattlesnake bites.  According to a  book if the rattlesnake sinks his
fangs into a leg, then encourage bleeding.   Suck the venom and  blood  out of the wound  right  away.  Yuck!  How can I suck
the blood  out of my  own leg.  Only some wiz bang yoga  guru can do that.   Got to get a snake bite kit from the company if
they expect me to go  to Arizona.    Nice part about Arizona would  be the absence of black  flies, moose flies,  deer flies…maybe.
Certainly will have lots  of these blood  sucking bastard  mosquitoes.  Malaria?  Wonder if they carry malaria.  Look  on the up
side,  Al, they made a lot of good western movies in Arizona  with John  Wayne.  Hi-yi-yipppy-yi-yay.  Arizona here I come.

“So, Barrie, I am all ready for Arizona…got big hat like John Wayne.”
“Change in plans, Alan…”
“Change?”  (not another Groundhog River ordeal…no, no, no!)
“Ireland, Alan, get your bag packed  for Ireland.”
“What about my snake bite kit?”
“No snakes in ireland, Alan.”
“Right…funny that I spent last night in the library checking out rattlesnakes.”

Spent the rest of the day getting my papers ready…passport, etc. then phoned
Marjorie and mom to let them know about this Ireland  adventure.

Tuesday ,  May  10, 1960

“Alan, hope you remember how to use the Turam, Ronka and an electrical resistivity outfit?”
“Think so…yes!”

But deep  down I was not that confident.  Last summer in Alaska, there  were five us running
the Turam.  I was just a helper to Bill Morrison who knew  everything about the Turam.  We were
a  two man field  crew…the other two man crew were Don Van Every and ian  Rujtherford…the three
of them seemed to know all about the Turam.  I  was just learning. But I made good  notes and watched

      the set up system.  Now a year later those guys

are gone and suddenly I  am  top  man.   I thought it was  only in war time that a private gets boosted  to
an officer because all the officers are dead.

“Crate  all the stuff up…we’re shipping it by boat to Dublin today.”

So we weighed, measured,  labelled, itemized a pile of stuff.   Enough to fill 8 crates…then had to get
stronger crates.  

Eric  and I  went to a movie show that night after I got Rev. Currie to sign my passport papers.

Wednesday May 11, 1960

Picked up the Turam from Charley Houston and  had new crates made.

Then Dr. Paterson…Norm…said, “Alan, get ready  to go to Blind River tomorrow…you will be  going
underground at an Elliot Lake uranium mine…mine has  been shut down…you will be  the last human
beings down in the cage.”
“What about Ireland?”
“Still going there  so make sure you fill out that list for Irish  Customs.”

Phoned Marjorie in North Bay…We are a couple…love her…but no time to
stop in North Bay on way  to Elliot Lake.

Thursday  May 12, 1960

Nailed  the top on the last crate.   Found a Ronka EM manuel to study.  No time for lunch  or
even  a cup of coffee.  Packed draughting supplies and resistivity outfit for the Blind River/Elliot Lake job.
In evening I went to Scout meeting and the Rover Crew gave me a  Rosary for protection in Ireland.

Mom and Eric dropped me off at the West Toronto train  station for Blind River.

Wednesday  May 13, 1960

Wonderful night sleeping in a birth on the train…even better waking up to a sumptuous breakfast as a panorama of
Canada whirled  by.  Sudbury appears like face of the moon…depressing.  Studied Ronka manual…best to know what
I might be expected  to know.  Got off train in  Spragge, a place that looks  like it sounds, then took taxi to Elliot Lake.
Impression?  Bad.  Abandoned  trailer camps, repossessed vehicles in car dealers, even more cars stripped naked.
The boom days  of Elliot Lake are over.  Is  it a good thing that the need for uranium has  tapered off or a bad thing?
Either way Elliot Lake is no longer a  boom town…now a bust town…heading to become a  ghost town.  We will live
in a CanMet guest house, very modern. CanMet mine once employed  1,000 men  but has now been stripped to a  workforce 
of 70.  We only saw less than 10.  Apparently the mine has  just been kept open long enough for us  to complete our survey.
We will eat our meals  in an immense empty dining hall once  operated  by the caterer Crawley and McKraken.  One of the
men assigned to us, Harry McGinnis,  said waitresses were expected to do double duty as hookers.   Probably another mining story that has
been inflated. Suppose the prostitute story could  be true though.  Which reminded me of an  age old  comment about
successful mining ventures.  “If the hookers arrive, you know the mine is going to open.”

We  tested the Ronka  on the beach of a lake above the mine.  Apparently the lake is now leaking into the mine stopes and shafts.
We will see if that is  true as we will be going down the shaft in the case tomorrow.   Abandoned machinery here and there.

Dateline  Friday  May 13, 1960

 “What is  happening here?”
 “Do  you mean what is  happening to Elliot Lake?”
 “Yeah…This was supposed to be a boom town…instead  I  see a  lot of stripped cars and  House For Sale  signs…and  not many  people wandering around.”
“If  you read  the papers or listened to the news, you  would  know what has happened?  
“Too much Uranium  235 around?   Radioactive town?”
‘Don’t be silly…that U 235 is rare…maybe only a  few of those atoms  in a  pound of  uranium…No danger here except maybe the tailings  ponds.”
“Town feels depressed.”
“Population moving out…once  had 24,000 people…dropping…lucky if 7000 will remain.”
“How  come?”
“The Yanks just said they would not renew the contract after 1962.”
“Cheaper uranium;m in a Saskatchewan mine”
“Maybe, the  Yanks already have 18,000 nuclear weapons…ought to be enough…”
   (NOTE: Not So, by 1965, the US nuclear arsenal reached higher than 20,000…since then it has been markedly reduced)

Atom bomb testing  was in full swing in 1960.  Many detonated  on the deserts of the American Southwest.  All  of them
using enriched uranium from the mines located at Elliot Lake, Ontario…nicknamed  our ‘Atomic  City’

“Who knows he truth?  I know one thing…”
“What’s that?”
“The Cold  War is still on big time.”
“Right…get reminders every  day…”
“Yep, those  Christly  big B 52’s are over us every day…way up high…can see their con trails across the sky.”
“And they are carrying Atom  bombs using  Elliot Lake uranium 235.”
“Why do you always but that 235 in the conversation.”
“Because that kind of uranium makes the bombs…U 235 is an unstable uranium atom…easier  to knock around and  loosen some neutrons…that’s what
makes the atom  bomb work, you know that of course.”
“Heard it often  but cannot understand how a few fractured atoms the size of peppercorns let loose enough power to blow  cities like Hiroshima and Nagasaki  off the map…kill thousands.”
“Apparently there are 100 pounds of uranium in each atomic  bomb but only 1 pound is fissile…”
“Fissile?   New  word to me.”
“Means it is  capable of  nuclear fission…capable of the big bang you might say.”
“What happens to the rest of the uranium.”
“Turns somehow to radioactive  dust…nasty stuff…lasts forever.”

Deep underground  at Can Met mine was eerie.  Absolute silence.  Absolute darkness…except
for the  occasional  explosive release of a roof bolt and  collapse of  a piece of the rock  ceiling
somewhere in the blackness.   The rock/ore was quite beautiful as you can  see in the glare
of my flashbulb.

“Have you ever seen uranium?”
“Well, we are about to see a lot of it at Can Met.”
“I thought the mine was empty.”
“No  mine is ever empty.”
“Why not?”
“How do you think the roof of  mine  is held up?”
“Wooden timbers?”
“Long ago that may have been the case but not now.  Roof of the mine
is  held  up  by great thick pillars  of rock….most of which contains  ore.
Pull those pillars and the whole goddamn mine  will collapse…as  you will see.”
“As I will see?”
“Yep, a lot of the pillars in Can Met have already been pulled.  The mine is finished…you will likely
hear parts of  the mine imploding…bloody dangerous  place.”
“Why are we going down there then?”
“Beats me.”
“Looking for minerals in a mine that is  collapsing…makes no sense.”
“I think  we  are just going down there to test the Ronka E.M.  unit…to see how it works  when
surrounded  by mineralization…maybe not…to tell the truth I am just following orders … not sure why we are going down in the cage.”
“Too modest, Alan.”

 “Not so…do not get some  kind of inflated idea of my role…I was just an instrument man…not a decision maker…best image might

be a “fly on the wall”  but there were no flies down at the bottom of the mine…could not see one anyway as  it was pitch black…

This is our crew getting ready to do a  Ronka EM survey deep in Can Met Uranium Mine.  A mine engineer
whose name I have lost is giving directions so we would not get lost in the darkness.  That might be me
wearing the Ronka hoop which was composed of tightly wound copper wire.   


Elliot Lake was the poster boy of a boom town.  In 1953, uranium was discovered…lots of it.  More uranium than anywhere else in the world
just a few hundred feet below the network a sparkling clean lakes and  rolling forested hills of this Shangri la of  Northern Ontario.
Lots of uranium found just at the time  when  the US was about to feverishly build atomic bombs as defence against a possible World War III against the Soviet Union.
By 1960, when we  were dropped deep into the stinking depths of  Can Met Uranium mine, the United States  had built over 18,000 atomic bombs using Elliot Lake
uranium.  The population zoomed to 25,000 by  1959 with 9 mining companies in operation.  

This is the ‘dry’ at Can Met, a hot air room in which  miners  hung their mine  clothing on hooks
that were then drawn to the ceiling.

Can Met Mine  had a short 4 year life, 1957 to 1960, and in that time  processed 2.5 million tonnes or with a uranium content of  between 2 and  3 lbs per tonne.
Early  atomic bombs  contained  10 pounds of enriched uranium 235…only 1 lb of which detonated.  The blast from an atomic bomb was created when the unstable  Uranium 235 atoms were split thereby  releasing
a  vast amount of energy by a chain effect atom splitting.  I know that is hard to understand.  How can such a small knocking around of Neutrons release  such a vast amount of energy.
Even scientists in the 1960’s were nonplussed.  “I am become death, the shatterer of worlds,” quoted scientist Robert Oppenheimer.
“The unleash  power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe,” said Albert Einstein. They
were both correct.

IN 1960, I was just a kid with an exciting assignment.  A chance to explore an empty and  collapsing mine deep down in the bowels  of the earth.

Now  how many people get a chance to do  that?   In our case  there were only five of  us decending in the battered cage at Can Met uranium mine.  After us The mine
was to be totally abandoned to the forces  of nature.  Gravity would cause the mine ceilings to fail…to implode.  Water was seeping into the nooks and crannies
where collapse had not or would  not occur.  The mine was dead and dangerous.  And,  God it was exhilarating to be down there.  An adventure to last a 
lifetime.  I slipped a small chip of uranium carrying ore into my pocket and still have it 59 years later..  Very  pretty.  Perhaps a little  radioactive
as well.  Only 1% of the uranium ore  was the unstable  U 235 so he danger was minimal.  And we would only be underground  for a few days even of
the radioactivity readings were three times what is considered safe…i.e. a count of 293, far above the 100 safe level. Or so I was told.  Sounded like bull shit
to a 22 year old optimist.

Exposure proved far more dangerous to the men whose jobs involved  8 hour underground shifts five days a week for years and years.  Little was said
of these dangers at the time.  Miners, most of them, did not think long term. Paycheck to paycheck.  Good pay checks. The need  for raw uranium to feed  the military needs
 of the Cold War trumped  any protest.   The atom bombs were more
important than human health.   And the mining jobs paid well.  Elliot Lake was a boom town for a few years…miners flocked there by the thousands, many
of them new  Canadians.   Some renamed the town “Atomic City”, a name that had  no tragic overtones.  Houses were built as fast as  possible many of them
using the rock  waste from the mine itself as foundation  stone.   Houses whose  foundations were so  radioactive that large  air  conditioning fans were eventually installed  beneath
the floors.  Worse, however was the discovery that Elliot Lake miners had twice  as many cases of lung cancer deaths than average…81 deaths as opposed to
45 in a control group. “It is certain that exposure to radon leads to an increased risk of  lung cancer,” wrote investigators. It was the Steel Workers Union of America
however that took action in 1976 when their man, Paul Falkowski, stated, “If anybody does not like  to go to the hospital with lung cancer, he should have  a 
very  close looks the Elliot Lake situation before he signs  on.”

High pay muted any concerns.  Mining was a dangerous occupation where risk of injury or  death was just accepted as normal.  So why
get worked  up over high levels radon gas?   There were no government warnings.  It was only late in the life  of  Elliot Lake that Mr. Falkowski, the union activist, came to
town with dire warnings about long term lethal consequences.  

 Better to revel in life of the boom town where a car salesman could sell  13  cars a day, every day.
And if the  dealership stayed open at night the sales could double.

As  with all mining boom towns, men far outnumbered women in Elliot Lake in the late 1950’s.  Ten men for every woman.  Pimps were  fast to see  opportunity
in that imbalance and  prostitutes  were moved into town as fast as the cages full of young miners went up and  down.  The prostitutes were housed in trailers that
could be moved around whenever police seemed troublesome.  Even trucks became moving brothels. Hookers activity was  so blatant that on mine payday trucks  would back right up to the 
mine buildings offering sex services without delay.   And if the police  showed up, the tail gates were swung up and the truck driver would look for another spot.
Elliot Lake was the reverse of the rock tune “I don’t get no satisfaction…”  Quite the reverse song  might have been hollered…”We all get our satisfaction at 
the cage  door.”

Then in 1959, just a year before we arrived for our short visit,  the winds  of  change began to blow.  The United  States announced  it would buy no more uranium from Elliot lake after 1962.  Elliot Lake’s boom became a  bust almost overnight.  Hence the Trailers abandoned along with cars stripped of anything valuable and left as hulks began to appear.

Elliot Lake did  not die completely.  There was a  short need for uranium for CANDU reactors and Ontario Hydro nuclear electricity installations.  But not enough.  By the 1990’s the last two operating mines in Elliot Lake
Denison Mines  and  Rio  Algom also closed down.  The uranium ore had  been depleted and the demand  for uranium was no longer strong.

Elliot Lake avoided becoming a boom  town when the community 
attracted retired  persons that move to the town by the bargain prices for the former mine community homes.
Back to my journal now…
May 14, 1960

Can Met Uranium mine is almost abandoned   We  will be the last human beings to enter the bowels of the earth and see the gravesite of a uranium mine that cost 25 million dollars to open in 1957 and  closed this
year,  1960, never having made enough money to cover costs.  Four years.  I wonder  how many atomic  bombs were made from the  2.5 million tonnes of  raw uranium ore  blasted and  scraped  from the walls?
Apparently 2 to 3 kg. of raw uranium were  recovered per  tonne of ore.   Estimates are that each atomic bomb contains 100 lbs of uranium so there was enough 
uranium to make many  atomic bombs.   Why did the United States not renew the contract?   Not because pressure to end the madness of the  Cold  War, that’s for sure.  Cheaper uranium mines 
were found in Saskatchewan was the big reason.

Can Met Uranium Mine had passageways that were wide and high.   Enough room
for front end loaders  and Tip cars  to function with ease.  All passageways had  once
been lit with electric lights.  These were gone when we went down. But lurking in the darkness
were many abandoned  vehicles like  those picture above.  It was a bit frightening when
the  cones   of light from our headlamps  suddenly revealed these  machines

The cage was just that…a big cage capable of carrying small bulldozer down or a shift of  miners up.  Except for us it was empty.  Harry McGinnis was our cageman, guide, and entertainer..  Decending was

disconcerting but not nearly as  scary

as the mine runways and stopes.  Today We descended at 8 a.m. and did not resurface until 12 p.m.  The  last scoop mobile ferried us from one point to another eventually
we completed 293 determinations  with the Ronka E.M. unit.  Our head lamps shot out cones of light that made  the blackness quite sinister.   Every sense was disturbing.  

Sight?  We saw walls 
black  with carbon beneath which was the pebbly conglomerate that held  one or two percent Uranium.   Once in a while. two or three large machines were revealed.  Hulks.  “Too old to be
saved…they…stay  down here as she fills with water. Quite  frightening really when a cone of  light suddenly reveals an immense yellow mine machine.


Sound?  Most of the time no sound whatever.  Then there would be a loud bang as a roof  bolt gateway.  Or, worse, a dull but powerful boom as some roof collapsed in s stope.  Some sounds were
close  by  but most were  distant.

Smell?   There was a damp smell of water mixing with spilled oils or other unknown chemicals.

Taste?   Might be imaginary but there seemed to be a metallic mouldy taste in the  air.

Touch?   A kind of wet slime on the walls as the  water from the lake  far above  us was working its way  down into the mine.   Some  low spots were now filled
and we had to wade our way along.

Some  of the mining machines were brought back to the surface for use by the nearby Denison Mine.
I have no idea  what this  machine did underground but note two points:  1) It has a  very low
profile which suggests it worked in the stopes and  may have been a machine that helped loosen ore.
2)  Imagine this  machine fitting into the ‘cage’ that took miners down.    Much too big for the cage
we used so  how this machine got down the mine is a bit of mystery.   Probably lowered in parts and
then put back together.  If  this was so, why did it come back up in one piece?

May 15, 1960

Our temporary home is the former staff and guest house intended for high company officials.  Luxurious.  But never used much and now  vacant.  Can Met built this guest lodge, a large bunk house for
single males, 22 houses for families, and a milling complex.   All dominated by  two winding towers for two shafts.  All now  abandoned. “Pearsons” was A  local name for the homes as many felt Elliot Lake had been
abandoned by Prime Minister Lester Pearson.

This is  the Can  Met Exective Lodge.  A building that had hardly be used…fully filled with period furniture of the 1960’s.  Buildings like this were built for miners 
with families while  single men lived  in larger bunk houses.  In 1960 a great many of these homes were boarded up with sheets of plywood.  In the town of
Elliot lake there  were many homes that had been built privately by residents.  On the hung For Sale signs  but there were no bidders.  Many people lost much
when the town mines  closed.

We went underground again at 8 a.m. today.  Five of  us.  Bob McConnell, Alan Peglar, Joe Weber, Harry McGinnis and me (Alan Skeoch).  The mine is quite  spacious, enough room for scoop mobiles to pass each other
in the main passageways.  One  of these scoop machines was provided for us to travel on  he  main haulage way to the  eastern border of the mine.   This scoop was the last moving vehicle in the mine.  There were
many other machines  stuffed into the stopes on each side of the haulage way.  Dead machines.  Seemed like  driving through a graveyard, underground,  with coffins on all sides.  Absolute silence broken
occasionally by loud BANGS!

These roof bolts  are  much smaller than those in Can Met and the  wooden pieces were iron slabs in
Can Met.  But, as  in all modern mines, roof  bolts like these helped hold up the ceilings.

“What was that?”
“Roof  bolts giving way…she’s collapsing you know,” said our guide  Harry McGinnis.
“How come?”
“They pulled a lot of the pillars as they  moved out…got as much high grade as they could.”
“Thought we were down here to see if the mine could be saved.”
“Where  did you get that idea?  No mine  can be saved  if the pillars are pulled.”
“Nothing to hold  up the ceilings in the stopes?”
“Not a damn thing…maybe I  can  get my mother in law  down here to do  that.”  (Harry had
an  odd sense  of humour, more of which we would hear.)
“Look over there.”
“Pile of rock?”
“Yep, that’s where one  of  our shift bosses got telescoped.”
“Yeah, the big chunks just folded him up  like a telescope.  Dead.  Stone dead.”
“Was that common?”
“One  of  the cat drivers drove right into the “grizzly”…mashed  him to a pulp.
“What’s a ‘grizzly’?”
“A crusher…takes or ore  and smashes it into little  bits that go up top on conveyor belt.”
“Grizzly as in grizzly bear, right?”
“Harry has his own names for just about anything.”

I slipped This tiny piece of ore into my pocket in 1960 and  have kept it ever since to remind
me just how surreal this  Elliot Lake job became.  I was never sure why  we went down in that mine.
The uranium is hidden  away in what is called a  pebbly conglomerate. Shiny.  No, you
cannot see any uranium.   To get uranium  it would be necessary to give this chip  a bath
in Sulphuric  acid to dissolve the mineral…and  then a secondary bath in ammonia to precipitate out
the uranium only 1% of  which would be U 235…radioactive form.  But it is from pieces
like this  in my hand that atomic bombs are made.

Note: What does ‘fissile’ mean?   It means that this rare  U235 of uranium will explode
in a nuclear chain reaction when brought to a critical mass.

We had our lunch on a big flat piece of rock in a stope that was sealed off by a sign, “Dangerous”.
Lunch was gritty…or seemed  so.

May 16, 1960

A motor generator for the Turam was scheduled to arrive in Sprague this morning.  So we did our drafting
while Harry entertained  us  with stories about Can Met.  He spoke with humour and emphasis.
Whether truth was present as well was not clear.
“Can Met spent $36,000 on air conditioning that never worked.”
“There are  $50,000 jumbos that sat underground  and were never used.”
“The haulage ways and stopes are filled  with abandoned mine  equipment.”

Mac, Joe  and  I set up our motor generator and laid  out our spread wire through the mine into
parts were we had to crawl through piles of rubble from roof bolt collapse.   I am beginning to
think this Can Met adventure is meant to show the people from Denison Mines that our Tram
EM units are trustworthy and  can discover underground conductors.  So there may be a connection
to the  upcoming job in Ireland.  Maybe Denison execs  just want some kind of  proof. But I have
no idea why we  are down here.

Joe  Weber is a former Nazi released in 1953 from some sort of prison for war criminals. He loved
telling me stories about expensive errors made by Can Met Executives…called  it a company founded
upon greed.  Strange he would do this as  Can  Met is his employer.  Then again he would soon lose
his job as  happened  to most Can  Met miners.  I suppose some of them were transferred to the main
Denison uranium mine which  was nearby and still functioning. While others were just let go.

We continued to be entertained  by Harry McGinnis who nicknamed the Can  Met warehouse as
“the whorehouse” since  “each time you go there for a  part or machine, you get screwed.”
“There are  $50,000 worth of spare parts for a nonexistent machine.”  True or not?  I do not
know but find it suspicious that the figure $50,000 is used often.  “Stealing gas is common to the
tune of $1,500 a  month.”   I wonder if these stories are just being said for my benefit.

May 17, 1960

Harry McGinnis was very drunk today  when he arrived at our cook house.  “Spent all night at the
Legion.”  The Legion turned out to be a shack built by his friends somewhere in the nearby bush.
We  went down in the cage at 8.30…rattled all the way down.  Took some readings with the
resistivity unit.  Quickly finished and began  hauling in the grounded cable.  Walking  alone
in the  blackness to the far corner of the mine is a bit frightening but also triggers curiosity.

Joe  Weber does not have a good word to say about anything or anybody…likely a result
of  his war experience.  We never probed that very deeply and he never offered  an explanation
as to why he spent the years from 1945 to 1953 in some kind of military prison.  Best not known I guess.

When I took a picture of the boys on the scoop, the flashbulb exploded.  Somehow  the walls of 
the mine amplified the noise making it soundl like a  cannon or, worse, a roof bolt giving way
above us.   

Harry spent some time criticizing the pope today and then turned back to his favourite subject, his
mother in law who he described as having a personality ‘harder than a whore’s heart’.
We ate lunch  on top of what Harry called a  ‘Portugeser’…a name that made no  sense

“Why is this large slab of rock  called a Portuguesor?”
“Good reason…see where it fell from the ceiling up there.?”
“Yeah, big gash.”
“Well, it fell down on a Portuguese … lots of them worked here … some
of them are under these big pieces of  rock…so we  call them ‘Portuguesors’
Truth or fiction? Hard  to say.


“What little lakes?”
“Surely you remember them…lovely lakes…Williams Lake, Bear Cub  Lake, Stollery Lake, Smith Lake and Long Lake?”

“They still exist in a way…but not as  they were.”
“They became the Tailings Ponds for the chemicals used to get the uranium.”
“Do  you mean the Sulphuric Acid and  Ammonia.”
“Precisely…so  much acid in the Tailing Ponds they  need lots of fresh water.”
“How long will that be”
“Long long time.  The  Ponds are checked  regularly for leaks but some treated effluent
does drain off into Serpent River and then Quirke Lake.   Tailing Ponds are one of the
down sides of  the mining industry.”
“Can people swim or fish in those lakes any more?”
“Are you kidding.  They are fenced off from the public even today…NO GO ZONES.

Here is another mine machine rescued from Can Met.  Behind it is a lake that was slowly percolating down
into the mine passageways and stopes.   Not far away are other beautiful lakes which became less
beautiful as more and more ‘tailings’ were piped into the waters.  These Tailings ponds remain dangerous
and  have to be tested every year in case  of leakage.  Sulphuric acid washed to dissolve the uranium from
the crushed ore.  Then ammonia was used precipitate the uranium from the sulphuric acid  solution.  Once
this was done and the uranium recovered the soup  of sulphuric acid  and Ammonia and other pollutants
were deposited  in the tailing ponds resting there for all time.

Is this Bear Cub Lake today?   


Our job is  over.  Still not sure why we were working underground in a  mine that 
had no future.  It might have been a double kind of test.  First, to see if the Turam and Ronka
worked…i.e. registered high readings in a place  where high readings should 
be expected.  And second,  maybe the Denison people wanted to see if I really  knew
what i was  doing…i.e. they needed some kind of  assurance before sending me
to Ireland.   Truth?  Someone must know?

Next stop was the village of Bunmahon, County Waterford, Southern Ireland.  Above 
is a picture of  Denison Mine Geologist John Hogan enjoying a pint of Guinness with
me in Kirwin’s pub where  we spent many evenings.

No one will ever walk through these dark passages  ever again. Can Met is a grave.

alan skeoch
April 2019



“IN his recent book, The Doomsday  Machine, Daniel Ellsberg argues that probably the greatest nuclear threat today is ACCIDENTAL nuclear war— that is, a false electronic
alarm  triggering a pre-emptive strike by either the U.S.  or Russia.   Over the years there have been a  number of chilling close calls.”…”Trump is  now heading in the opposite 
direction, embarking on modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Linda McQuaig, 
Toronto Star Columnist

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The B 52 Stratofortress heavy bombers first rolled off the Boeing assembly line in 1953 and  since then 744 have been made.   In 1960, the year we were working for a few days underground in  Elliot Lake, Boeing delivered
106 brand new B 52’s to the American Strategic  Air Command for service as a nuclear armed   strike force should America be attacked by the  Society Union.  B 52 bombers were in the air all the time…i.e. some bombers
were always ready to strike back should a nuclear war be  triggered.  The B  52 could fly  85,000 miles in one mission.  Really the only limit on the B 52 was the possible fatigue of its crew.  Boeing eventually delivered  
744 of these heavy bombers to the USAF of which 76 are still operational today, many based  in Minot,  North Dakota.  At the peak of the Cold War we could see B 52 contrails every day as they overflew Toronto
at 50,000 feet.  All were armed  at that time with nuclear weapons  many of which  contained  Uranium from  Elliot Lake.

The con trails  of these B 52’s that caused us to build an air raid shelter in our cellar.  And stock it with a dozen cans of tomato soup and one old studio couch and a potential pair of laundry tubs  filled
with fresh water providing mom had time enough to fill these tubs.  Silly?   Pointless?  Comforting?  All of these.  Would  we let the neighbours and  friends into our shelter in the event of nuclear war?’
That was a big moral  question at the time.

“The B-52 is an Air Force plane that refuses to die. Originally slated for retirement generations ago, it continues to be deployed in conflict after conflict. It was the first plane to drop a hydrogen bomb, in the Bikini Islands in 1956, and laser-guided bombs in Afghanistan in 2006. It has outlived its replacement. And its replacement’s replacement. And its replacement’s replacement’s replacement.”  New York Times



When that Atom Bomb was dropped by the B 29 named Enola Gay on  Hiroshima  in 1945 the destruction of  global civilization became a possibility as the United  States
and the Soviet Union began to mass produce nuclear weapons.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki became familiar to all.  When the first nuclear atom bomb exploded over Hroshima about
99% of the uranium that was supposed to undergo a chain reaction did  not do  so.  A very small percentage  of the explosive (fissile) uranium, maybe 2% exploded while the
remainder became radioactive  dust.  Deadly dust.  How  big was the explosive material?  About the size of a  peppercorn…7/10 of gram…the winght of a five dollar bill.  That was 
enough to level a two mile radius and kill 80,000 people.  Did the uranium come from Elliot Lake?  No.  It was the sudden need for uranium after Hiroshima that made Elliot Lake
the uranium capital of the western world.


Enriched  Elliot Lake  uranium was used in the bombs that blew  apart some  islands in the South Pacific Ocean  after similar explosions polluted parts of the American  southwest.
This  ended  when scientists such as Canadian Ursula  Franklin detected  Strontium 90 in her son’s baby teeth…radioactive fallout from above ground nuclear testing.  The result?
 U.S. President John Kennedy negotiated with the Soviet Union a Nuclear Test Bomb Treaty banning above ground testing of nuclear weapons.

The Test Bomb treaty did not end nuclear testing nor did it prevent the squadrons of B 52 bombers loaded with nuclear bombs from taking to the air each day so that in the event of
nuclear a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviets  the airborne B 52’s could deliver a return devastation as so graphically portrayed in the film Dr. Strangelove.  Elliot Lake was involved
in the bomb  business until 1962 when the US found a  cheaper source of  uranium  in Saskatchewan.

As a high school kid in the 1950’s I can still remember the con trails of those B 52’s that regularly overflew Toronto high up in the sky.  Like many other Canadians, I built an air raid
shelter in our cellar…one old studio couch, a dozen cans of tomato soup and  other cans pilfered from mom’s supplies.  “Mom, if an A bomb happens, run down  cellar and turn
on he ware in the laundry tubs, fill both of them…we will need that water.”  It was primitive effort. How could all  four of us  sleep on one narrow couch?  What if  a  neighbour waned
in as the city burned?  Where would we go to the toilet?  What would we do when the water ran out?  How could we cook the tomato soup?  Where would we go to the bathroom?
How could we be sure radioactive dust did not blow in from the cellar windows?  Sounds silly, but in the 1950’s fear of nuclear Armageddon was as real as the nose on your  face.
 As fate would  have it, one summer job with Hunting
Tech and Exploration Services sent me as  an instrument man helping Abul Mousuff do a  seismic survey up and  down the St John River Valley.  One of our base lines passed right through
the wooded area near Andover, New Brunswick where a B 52 crashed killing all crew except one who mysteriously was able to parachute.   On that crash sit I picked up this small
piece of melted aluminum that was  once part of the B 52 fusillade.  Fortunately that plane was on a  training flight and  was therefore not carrying nuclear bombs.  Or so we were told.
Other B 52’s also crashed in those years, one  of which crashed  in the eastern USA and the failsafe blocks all failed save one on a  nuclear bomb.


I put my fears on the back burner for the last 50 years.  No one in his or her  right mind would  start a nuclear war?  Right?  And the main enemy during the Cold  War had  collapsed  and
morphed  into Russia and a whole mess of  splinter states.  So what’s there to worry about?  Worry?  I think a stronger term is needed…FEAR.  Every time I see the President of the
United States walking or talking, I cannot help but notice the man behind him.  You’ve seen  him as well no doubt.  He  is in a  military uniform and  carries a brief case.  Ever wonder
why he shadows President Trump so  closely?  Inside that brief case is a button.  By pressing that button the President of the US can launch a massive number of nuclear rockets aimed
at specific targets.  At the same time 80 or more B 52”s crews will scramble and rumble down  runways from bases in the Western defence perimeter.   Then, perhaps a  little later,
nuclear submarines roaming the oceans of the world  will launch another bevy of nuclear rockets.

No one  would be that stupid?  How long does  a US president have to make such a should  destroying retaliation?  Five Minutes!  Let me  put that in big type…FIVE MINUTES!
The final decision rests with him alone.  And that is major worry today since President Trump takes pride in being unpredictable,  impulsive and often unable  or unwilling to listen
to advice.  My fears are not just mine.  In an article titled Nuclear War Should Require a Second Opinion (Scientific  American, August 1017, P.8)  the editors wrote 
 “In just five  minutes an American president could put all of humanity in jeopardy…that’s how  long would  takeoff as  many  as  400 land-based nuclear weapons the US to loosed…after
an initial  ‘go’ order.” Once  launched there is now way to stop them for there is no self-destruct switches.

One man, the  President of the US  decides.  And  he has five minutes to do so.  All other aspects of this  nuclear arsenal has checks  lest  a lunatic goes nuts.  Long years  ago we took
our boys to  a desolate place in North Dakota.  “Boys, behind that barbed  wire fence where that concrete bunker noses above he ground, there  are nuclear rockets encased in cement silos.
Extremely dangerous.  Somewhere nearby, invisible to us, are  two men in a control room.  Those  rockets cannot be launched  unless both get a “go” signal to do so.  Two men who have been
checked  as mentally stable and  responsible.”  That fact is some comfort.

Why then cannot the president of the United States  have a failsafe scenario where he must consult some other person before pressing that Armageddon button?  Get a second opinion in other words.

This article by the  editors of Scientific  American is concerned because Donald Trump, President of the United States “aspires to be ‘unpredictable’ in how he would use nuclear weapons.”

Now here is the big question.  Should our family start buying cans of tomato soup?


While we were doing this seismic survey across  the soil where the B 52 crashed we  heard several very strange stories
about the crash.  Was it an accident or was it madness…i.e.  deliberate.  How did  one man manage to bail  out?   The final
report on the crash  is reassuring but is it correct?  

Andover, NB Bomber Explodes In Flight, Jan 1957

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Andover, N.B. (AP) — Frozen woodlands near here were searched today for one Air Force man still missing from the crew of an eight-engine B52 bomber which exploded in flight yesterday. Seven bodies were found and one man parachuted with minor injuries.
Hundreds of Air Force men, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and French – Canadian trappers and guides, warmly garbed against temperatures which went far below zero, hunted for the missing man.
A spokesman from the jet plane’s Loring Air Force base at Limestone, Maine, said the man may have parachuted. He said two parachutes were reported seen by residents of the area but that “they lost sight of one of them.”
The spokesman said Capt. RICHARD A. JENKINS, the commander of the craft and one of those killed, was at the controls, his head partially covered by a visor-type hood used in reflex tests. With the covering the pilot can see the instrument panel but cannot see outside the plane.
Six bodies were recovered in the wreckage or the deep snow yesterday. A seventh was found in part of the plane early today by searchers carrying portable lamps.
Several hours after the crash of the B52 jet bomber, an Air Force B29 crashed on landing at Bergstrom Air Force Base, near Austin, Tex., killing six crewmen and injuring three others.
The public information office at Loring identified five of the seven victims of the Andover crash as:
Capt. RICHARD A. JENKINS, the aircraft commander, Huron, Ohio.
Capt. WILLIAM C. DAVIDSON, Stockton, Calif.
Capt. JOHN E. McCUNE, Hayward, Calif.
Capt. MARQUID H. D. MYERS, Tracy, Calif.
T. Sgt. RAY A. MILLER, Racine, Wis.
All were married and all but DAVIDSON had children.
The only known survivor was:
1st Lt. JOE L. CHURCH, Charlotte, N.C.
A spokesman at Loring said a team of Air Force flight safety experts from Norton AFB near San Bernardino, Calif., and officials of the Boeing Airplane Co., would take part in an investigation of the crash. Boeing builds the eight-million-dollar, swept-wing B52s.
Brig. Gen. William K. Martin, Loring Commander, said in a statement “an unusual maneuver may have resulted in exceeding the flight limitations of the aircraft.”
In Washington, the Air Force said the pilot was undergoing a reflex test wherein the flyer’s eyes are partly shielded and the plane put into an “unusual position. The pilot then must right the craft.
The Washington spokesman said the plane apparently had been “placed in a position beyond its capability.”
The plane was the fourth B52 lost by the Air Force on training flights since February 1956.

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