Do you remember the world’s very first nuclear disasters? The Canadian government sought the assistance of nuclear experts from the United States. But did you know how Jimmy Carter was involved?
In Ottawa, Canada, the first-ever nuclear reactor meltdown happened on December 12, 1952. The disaster was averted by a team lead by then Lieutenant Jimmy Carter, who went into the damaged reactor to fix it.
Who is Jimmy Carter?
James Earl Carter Jr. was born on October 1, 1924, in Plains, Georgia. Carter attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology before graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1946. He went on a seven-year career in the US Navy and served on a submarine for five years.
While preparing to become an engineering officer for the Seawolf in 1953, his father passed away. Because of this, Carter resigned from his commission and went home to Georgia to manage the family’s peanut farm.
Cater’s political career started while serving on the local board of education. He then won a seat at the Georgia State Senate in 1962 as a Democrat and was reelected in 1964. He failed to secure a position as governor in 1966 but succeeded in winning in 1970 by adhering to a segregationist approach. By the end of his term as governor in 1974, Carter announced his candidacy as president for the Democratic party. Despite lacking a national political base, he managed to pull through and win the presidency in 1977 and served as the 39th president of the United States. (Source: Britannica)
The First Nuclear Meltdown
The claim is that the world’s first nuclear reactor meltdown, which happened 69 years ago, was stopped by the team headed by former US President Jimmy Carter when he was just 28 years old and working for the US Navy. But is this true?
According to the Historical Society of Ottawa, Carter heroically lowered himself down to the reactor as a part of the mission and saved Ottawa. People took the article to Twitter and reminisced on how much Carter was an American hero.
The Chalk River NRX nuclear reactor started to experience a meltdown that resulted in thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooding its core causing significant damage. In addition to the issue at hand, the facility operators were making poor decisions handling the situation. This resulted in a nuclear fission chain reaction that caused the power to rise.
A defect in the NRX shut-off rod mechanism, combined with the human errors, caused a temporary loss of control over reactor power, ultimately causing it to surge to between 60 and 90 MW. This energy load would normally not have been a problem, but several experimental fuel rods that were at that moment receiving inadequate cooling for high power operation ruptured and melted.Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) Reactor
Canada decided to call the United States for help. At the time, Carter was a trained nuclear engineer who had worked under Admiral Hyman Rickover, the head of the US Navy’s nuclear program aboard the Seawolf Submarine.
As part of the clean up plan, the reactor had to be shut down, disassembled and replaced, with the team also needing to clean any spilled radioactive material. The intensity of the radiation meant that Carter and each member of his team could only spend about ninety seconds at the core location. Before the operation, which involved being lowered into the core, an exact replica of the reactor was built on a nearby tennis court, where Carter and his men practiced cleaning and repairing it.The Historical Society of Ottawa
Carter talked about the mission in his book; Why Not the Best? The book was published while he ran for presidency in 1976.
We all went out on the tennis court, and they had an exact duplicate of the reactor on the tennis court. We would run out there with our wrenches and we’d check off so many bolts and nuts and they’d put them back on. And finally when we went down into the reactor itself, which was extremely radioactive, then we would dash in there as quickly as we could and take off as many bolts as we could, the same bolts we had just been practicing on. Each time our men managed to remove a bolt or fitting from the core, the equivalent piece was removed on the mock-up.Jimmy Carter