The best of the old school
By Tim Lougheed
Photo: "Calamai, Spurgeon & Laing, 1968." A newspaper science writing award ceremony. At the top left is Peter Calamai.
In early 2008 Canadians found their collective attention drawn to a nuclear reactor that few of them had probably thought about in a long time, if they even knew it was there. The National Research Universal (NRU) in Chalk River, Ontario, several hours’ drive west of Ottawa, had been shut down for repairs and created an international shortage of Molybdenum-99, an isotope employed in millions of cancer-scanning procedures every year. Since this 50-year-old facility had been turning out close to half the world’s output of this exotic product, its absence left patients with unexpected and often agonizing delays in diagnosis.
It was a story that was bound to confuse many observers, including reporters trying to sort out the intricacies of how an isolated research facility built at the beginning of the cold war wound up as the lynchpin of a medical supply chain for a sophisticated imaging technology used in hospitals all over the world. Peter Calamai, on the other hand, was just getting warmed up. He had been writing about the NRU for 10 years at that point, getting acquainted with dozens of nuclear engineering experts from across the country, religiously attending public meetings of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and making Access-to-Information requests for documents about the reactor’s operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. By the time the “isotope crisis” had arrived, no one was better positioned to write detailed, meaningful articles about what was happening, why it was happening, and what it meant to Canadians. And he did just that, exploring the politics, economics, and technical intricacies of the situation in language that was engaging and accessible. ... Read More
Peter Calamai, Mentor of Many Charms
By Margaret Munro
Photo: "Gannets" by Peter Calamai
I met Peter Calamai at Southam News in Ottawa in the early 1980s – me a recently hired young science correspondent; Peter a feted foreign correspondent just back from a posting in Africa.
Our flamboyant boss, Nick Hills, would herd the staff in the bureau overlooking Parliament Hill into a crammed conference room for morning news meetings. Nick would run down the stories expected from Southam’s far-flung international bureaus; national reporters would lay claim to the hot stories of the day; and columnists Charles Lynch and Allen Fotheringham would pontificate for the assembled crew.
The political junkies were kind, but were about as interested in my science and environment stories as I was in their scoops on the inner workings of Pierre Trudeau’s government. ... Read More