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Ontario's Chalk River nuclear station marked a dubious anniversary this week. Fifty-five years ago, on Dec. 12, 1952, the site experienced a major nuclear accident.

Chalk River made history as the only nuclear station in Ontario that has ever been involved in a major accident.

But it also made history for another reason: Jimmy Carter, the future U.S. president, was a nuclear engineer in the U.S. Navy at the time and participated in the cleanup crew for the accident.

Canada's National Research Council had founded the Chalk River Laboratories to research the production of nuclear material for atomic weapons during the Second World War.

Its experimental reactor, the NRX, began operating in 1947 and after the war became Canada's first research reactor.

The accident occurred when the NRX was seriously damaged after a power runaway caused a number of steam explosions, author Duane Bratt says in his book The Politics of Candu Exports.

"Although there were no deaths, the reactor was greatly damaged, and only an intensive and expensive salvage effort could restore it," Mr. Bratt wrote.

The cleanup effort lasted several months. The NRX was back in service within two years.

As for Mr. Carter, he dreamed from an early age of following an uncle into the navy. In 1952, he and his family moved to Schenectady, N.Y., where Lieutenant Carter would help build the reactor for the navy's first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus.