Jimmy Carter once risked his life to help save Ottawa by lowering himself into a melting nuclear reactor
President Jimmy Carter is arguably the most beloved former president in recent memory. His reputation has only grown since he left office because of his relentless humanitarian work and the clear decency of his character. He is the oldest living president in the history of our country, having just celebrated his 97th birthday this past October. He is an icon and a singular example of what public servants could and should be.
But President Carter has always had the kind of integrity that usually keeps people away from public office these days. Back in 1952, Carter, a young Naval officer, was in the early stages of a most formative moment in his life and career. He had recently been sent to work under Captain Hyman Rickover at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Carter worked closely on the nuclear propulsion system for the Sea Wolf submarine. As such, he told CNN back in 2011, "I was one of the few people in the world who had clearance to go into a nuclear power plant.”
On Dec. 12, 1952, a 28-year-old Carter was called into action after an accident occurred on a new experimental nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Canada. Nuclear energy and containment was new, and the Atomic Energy of Canada Chalk River Laboratories were dealing with a partial meltdown. Canada needed help and Carter was one of a very few people with active knowledge of the subject.
On Thursday, the story of how then-Lt. Carter led a group of 23 people on a mission to save the capital city of Ottawa went viral.
Do you remember the world\u2019s very first nuclear meltdown? That time the US President, an expert in nuclear physics, heroically lowered himself into the reactor and saved Ottawa, Canada\u2019s capital? \n\nSounds like schlocky action movie, but it actually happened!pic.twitter.com/LtAQYC79QZ— Jeff Lundeen (@Jeff Lundeen) 1639537365
Some have questioned whether or not this story, which sounded like something out of an old Captain America comic book, was real. It is. As Carter explained in his memoir, "The reactor core was below ground level and surrounded by intense radioactivity. Even with protective clothing, each of us would absorb the maximum permissible dose with just ninety seconds of exposure, so we had to make optimum use of this limited time. The limit on radiation absorption in the early 1950s was approximately one thousand times higher than it is sixty years later."
Carter and his team were a part of the group of people who needed to clean and fully shut down the reactor. The short amount of time Carter and his team could spend at any stretch meant they needed to be precise. They first created an exact replica of the reactor in a parking lot nearby to practice cleaning and repairing it.
”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."
His urine reportedly had traces of radiation in it for six months after the experience. It’s hard to overstate how great Jimmy Carter is. Every new story about him, or old story you had not heard before, only adds to one’s respect and admiration for the man.
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