Jimmy Carter used to help clean up Ont. partial nuclear meltdown

It was December 1952, the Cold War was raging, and in a rural Ontario community, a nuclear reactor had just partially melted down – the world’s first major reactor accident. gender.

The partial meltdown at the Chalk River Experimental Nuclear Laboratory, about 200 kilometers north of Ottawa, has significant implications for the changes to reactor design and safety it has helped. open.

More than 70 years later, it is also remembered that a young US naval officer who later became president helped disassemble parts of the reactor facility under intense radiation.

Jimmy Carter, famous as the 39th president of the United States, was at the time Lt. James Earl Carter Jr., a 28-year-old officer came to the same team after the accident to help.

The now 98-year-old Carter began hospice care in his home this weekend, prompting many remembrances, including a pivotal piece of international nuclear history that took place at Chalk River decades ago.

“That’s very valuable,” said Morgan Brown, a recently retired Chalk River reactor safety engineer and president of the Canadian Association for the Preservation of Nuclear Heritage.

“Personally, I’m very grateful to the other (American) teams that were able to come here.”

The accident occurred on December 12, 1952, when a series of failures resulted in a short wave, which melted some of the nuclear reactor’s fuel rods and reached its maximum capacity about three times the work rate. facility capacity, Brown said. He said no one was killed or seriously injured and contamination was closely monitored after that.

In his 1975 autobiography, Carter recounted how he was part of the U.S. reserve army, who helped dismantle parts of the reactor facility, put on white protective gear, and do 90-second shifts to reduce radiation exposure.

His team will first practice their operations on a replica reactor built nearby before going into the real facility.

“There were no obvious consequences from this exposure – just a lot of questionable jokes between us about death versus infertility,” Carter wrote in his autobiography.

Carter later said the cleanup was an indication of the close relationship between Canada and the United States, a relationship he would turn to as president during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis.

Brown noted that records show US service members arrived weeks after the crash.

“There will be pollution,” he said. “There will be a relatively high radiation field and that’s why they have little time to go in and do their job.”

Carter was one of 150 U.S. service members involved in the cleanup, along with approximately 860 facility personnel, 170 Canadian military personnel and 20 construction contractors.

A speech by US Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1978 shows that he asked Canada’s permission to send a group of naval officers to help, but also to learn from experience.

Rickover said Carter did “an outstanding job,” according to a copy of his remarks, posted on Carter’s presidential library website.

Brown said the Chalk River accident is clearly remembered in the nuclear community for the changes it brought, including improved shutdown systems and clearer control room operating standards.

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

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