Yes, Jimmy Carter did help stem a meltdown once
Former US President Jimmy Carter helped contain a potentially dangerous accident at a nuclear reactor in Canada in 1952.
In late 2021, we received several requests from Snopes readers wanting to confirm the authenticity of an intriguing story about one of former President Jimmy Carter’s accomplishments at the White House, which was told in several widely shared social media posts.
For example, on December 14th, Jeff Lundeen posted a very widespread tweet which included an old picture of a young Carter, a screenshot of the anecdote, and the following caption:
Do you remember the very first meltdown in the world? Back then, the US President, an expert in nuclear physics, heroically threw himself into the reactor and saved Canada’s capital, Ottawa? Sounds like a fluffy action movie, but it actually happened!
This tweet was pulled from one itself earlier Facebook post by the Historical Society of Ottawa, which can be seen below:
The key claim from these reports was that Carter, as a young naval officer, played a significant role in containing a meltdown. This claim was accurate and we give it a rating of True.
In the main control room of USS K-1 (SSK-1) between June and October 1952. (Source: Naval History and Heritage Command).
Born in 1924 and raised in Plains, Georgia, Carter had a relatively short but distinguished naval career when summarized by the US Navy itself:
President James Earl “Jimmy” Carter graduated with honors from the Naval Academy in 1946, after which he was assigned to the USS Wyoming (E-AG 17) as an ensign. After completing two years of service on overseas ships, Carter applied for submarine service. He served as executive officer, engineering officer, and electronics repair officer on the submarine SSK-1. When Admiral Hyman G. Rickover (Captain at the time) started his program to build nuclear-powered submarines, Carter wanted to join the program and was interviewed and selected by Rickover. Carter was promoted to lieutenant and served temporarily with the Naval Reactors Branch of the US Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. from November 3, 1952 to March 1, 1953 to “assist in the design and development of nuclear propulsion systems for naval vessels.”
From March 1 to October 8, 1953, Carter prepared to become the engineering officer for uss sea wolf (SSN-575), one of the first submarines to be nuclear powered. However, when his father died in July 1953, Carter resigned from the Navy and returned to Georgia to manage his family interests. Carter was honorably discharged on October 9, 1953 and, at his request, was posted to the retired reserve with the rank of lieutenant.
On December 12, 1952, an accident occurred at the National Research Experimental (NRX) nuclear reactor on the Chalk River near the Canadian capital of Ottawa. A detailed official report from Atomic Energy of Canada on the incident and its aftermath can be found Here And Here.
Promoted to lieutenant in June of that year, Carter was at the time seconded from the Navy to the US Atomic Energy Commission’s Reactor Development Division in Schenectady, New York. A 2019 video reviewed and released by All Hands, the US Navy’s official magazine, contained the following account of the future president’s involvement in the cleanup:
Due to a combination of mechanical failure and human error, a power surge of up to 90 megawatts melted some fuel rods after they ruptured in the NRX research reactor at Chalk River Laboratories. The core of the reactor was severely damaged, requiring a massive cleanup effort. This was the first incident of this magnitude, and Carter was ordered to lead a team of 23 people to help with the cleanup.
When he arrived at the scene, a double reactor was set up at a nearby tennis court, where he and his team practiced removing bolts and parts as quickly as possible. Once lowered into the damage reactor, each person would only have 90 seconds to work due to the extreme levels of radioactivity. The core was shut down, rebuilt and returned to service without further incident.
Reflecting on the episode in 2008, Carter told Canadian author Arthur Milnes that he and his team were exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation at the Chalk River, just as Milnes would later writing for CNN:
“We were pretty well informed at the time about what nuclear power is, but after that I had radioactivity in my urine for about six months,” President Carter, now 86, told me during an interview for my new book in Plains in 2008. “You Let’s probably get a thousand times more radiation than we are now. It was in the early stages and they didn’t know it.
Despite the fears he had to overcome, Carter admits he was excited at the opportunity to use his top-secret training to clean up the reactor, which sits on the Ottawa River northwest of Ottawa.
“It was a very exciting time for me when the Chalk River plant melted down,” he continued in the same interview. “I was one of the few people in the world who had permission to go into a nuclear power plant,” he said. “We were 23 and I was in charge. I took my crew there by train.”
https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/jimmy-carter-nuclear-meltdown/ Yes, Jimmy Carter did help stem a meltdown once