Cosmos 954 - Operation Morning Light


In the early hours of 24 January 1978 a nuclear satellite that in 1977 was launched in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) burned up over northern Canada impacting a large area of Canadian tundra. A joint (Canadian and American) recovery and cleanup project "Operation Morning Light" was begun almost immediately and ran for most of that year (January-October) with approximately 1% recovery of satellite debris. No photo ops or medals of gallantry ensued. It was not the Canadian way.


The governments of Canada and the USSR in 1981settled a claim for damages through the United Nations, but without details. And the Health Canada Radiation Protection Bureau 1983 Health Risk Assessment concluded that the duration of radiation half-life risk associated with the event would last for only an estimated two (2) years.


For those who participated in Operation Morning Light and all who lived within the area affected by the satellite's impact, the radiation effects would last a lifetime. One such participant was Robert Grinstead, an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Robert, accompanied by Patrick Callagan, a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, was instructed to set camp at 15 metres from the debris crater. Neither man was aware that on 29 January, a Canadian military team, along with American nuclear scientists, had field measured the debris site and placed boundary markers around the radiation danger zone from the crater for a distance of 25 metres. The two were also unaware that the satellite debris , along with samples of surrounding snow and ice had been transported to the Whiteshell Laboratories in Pinawa, Manitoba for nuclear analysis. The results of that analysis were later kept out of the Canada's claim for damages and also Health Canada's Health Risk Assessments.


It is common knowledge in the medical field that the effects of exposure to high levels of radiation can take years to appear in the human body. Thus Robert, in 2012, following his scheduled United Nation's medical examination, was advised that he had a very aggressive leukemia, usually associated with nuclear exposure. 


Coincidence? Likely not! Robert, given no subsequent exposure, naturally related his cancer to his duties during Operation Morning Light when he was deployed at debris site "Satellite One" from31 January until 6 February, 1978. All subsequent efforts on his part to obtain compensation were denied. And this is not and should not be the Canadian way either!


After nearly a decade of battling the system and his cancer, Robert sadly passed away in 2019 but not before writing a report on his Operation Morning Light deployment. During that time, he also wrote about his medical condition and interpretations of Canada Law and RCMP Policy which ultimately led to failures to provide care. Below are the final pages of Robert's Report that he wished shared, hoping they might be of help to others who find themselves in similar circumstances:



"A Case for Redress"


My Research into Canadian law suggests there are four prerequisites before damages can be awarded. They are; a duty of care, a negligent misrepresentation, reliance and resulting damage.


Duty of Care


The Canadian government was responsible for disseminating information about radioactivity in relation to Cosmos 954 and the Thelon River site and relied upon the RCMP management and Canadian forces personnel (Lieutenant Colonel Davidson) to carry out that task. It was in the dissemination of information or rather the failure to disseminate the necessary information that is the issue.


The advise and critical information that should have been provided to me fell within the responsibility of my employer and Lieutenant Colonel Davidson.


It must be seen that Lieutenant Colonel Davidson accepted a relationship with me which required him to exercise such care as the circumstances required. The RCMP most definitely had and (sic) employee/employer relationship requiring them to exercise duty of care.


It could be argued that the Canadian government and the RCMP had an increased or 'elevated' duty of care given the employee/employer relationship that existed.



Negligent Misrepresentation


The Canadian government through their employee Lieutenant Colonel Davidson and RCMP management failed to exercise that standard of care that reasonably should have been required in the circumstances and their omissions constituted negligent misrepresentations. They failed to inform me that available test results were limited in scope or not completed, failed to inform me about the dangers of exposures to radiation and failed to provide me with even the very basic information about personal protection in the circumstances.


It is clear that the failure on the part of the Government of Canada, represented by RCMP management and Lieutenant Colonel Davidson, is evident of negligenct misrepresentation. Their failures to provide me with important information and their lack of transparency reassurance me and therefore I saw no reason to question my deployment.




I relied on the advise and assurance about the safety of the assignment in order to make a judgement as to whether I would follow orders and deploy.


The information that was critical to me in relation to my decision making was not provided and in the circumstances, the RCMP and Lieutenant Colonel Davidson knew and accepted that their judgement would be relied upon.


My continued reliance upon the information given or lack of importance provided was reasonable. There was no other information available that would have alerted me to the fact, that dangerous radioactivity existed at the site which had potentially serious health effects.

Resulting Damage


I suffered a loss because of my reliance on the negligent misrepresentations made to me by the RCMP and Lieutenant Colonel Davidson an employee of the Canadian forces. Lieutenant Colonel Davidson failed to provide vital facts that would have had a significant on my decision making and course of action at the time. This withholding of information has resulted in significant health issues, emotional distress, loss of earnings and protracted medical treatment in early 1979 and I continue to be affected. I have suffered economic loss and other consequential damage.


It would be unreasonable for the RCMP to claim they had no information about the levels of radioactivity or risks associated with the site, given they were sending one of their employees into what at the very least appeared to be a radiation risk activity. Either DND refused to provide the RCMP with vital information or the RCMP simply didn't ask.


There can be no question that the Canadian government had a right, as a policy matter, to decide to whom information would be disseminated. However, in the circumstances it would have been completely appropriate and necessary.


Although DND was responsible for the logistics in terms of transport and support, I remained an RCMP employee. The employee/employer relationship did not change throughout the operation.




It should be clear that the Canadian government through its employee Lieutenant Colonel Davidson and the RCMP, owed a duty of care to me and they were negligent in the performance of the duty and I suffered because off this negligence.


The negligent thread that runs through every aspect of the Canadian government's acts and omissions in relation to my deployment on the high risk activity during Operation Morning Light are clear and disturbing.


In their rush to respond to the Cosmos 954 event they failed me in every way including their duty of care, their obligation to disclose vital information and their poor advise throughout what was an extremely high risk activity.


That failure, through clear negligence, resulted in my unnecessary exposure at the time and a complete abdication of their responsibility in terms of medical assessment, follow-up and aftercare.


Robert Grinstead


4 March 2015

In 2007, Petition 199 was created relating to Cosmos 954 and the incident. These petitions were removed in 2016. A copy if available to download from this page, including the response from the Canadian government.


Robin des Bois 2016 "Cosmos 954 Downfalls" https://robindesbois.org/en/les-retombees-du-cosmos-954-3/ part 6 - New Downfalls 29 Years After.