How Jimmy Carter once helped clean up a partial nuclear meltdown – in Ontario


Published February 20, 2023 at 11:10 pm

He is known now as Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

But in December 1952, James Earl Carter Jr. was a young U.S. naval officer about to be sent to a nuclear facility north of Ottawa to help clean up the world’s first serious reactor accident, after a partial meltdown of the lab’s reactor.

The now-98-year-old Carter started hospice care at his home this weekend, prompting a rush of remembrances, including a consequential piece of international nuclear history that played out at Ontario’s Chalk River Laboratories more than 70 years ago.

Carter recounted in his 1975 autobiography how in the aftermath of the accident he was among those called in to help dismantle parts of the reactor facility, dawning white protective equipment and working in short shifts to reduce radiation exposure.

Carter would later say it was an indication of the close ties between Canada and the U.S., a relationship he would look to as president during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis.

As for Chalk River, no one was seriously injured or killed in the aftermath, but it’s well remembered in the nuclear community for the changes it marshalled to reactor safety and design.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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