Resources for Patients and their Families

Beowawe Power Plant

Beowawe is located in north-central Nevada along U.S. Interstate Highway 80, approximately halfway between Elko and Battle Mountain. The area is home to a source of geothermal energy in the form of geysers.

Geothermal energy – heat that is leftover from the formation of the planet over 4.5 billion years ago – has largely been unexplored in the U.S., but the geologically active western region of the country has some potential in this regard.

The Beowawe Plateau was long been known for its geologic activity; however, serious study of the area's geothermal potential was not undertaken until 1959, and went on for over twenty years before it was exploited.

Caithness Energy LLC was one of the first companies to build a power plant based on a geothermal source. The Beowawe plant was built in 1985 and continued operations for twenty-two years. In the beginning, the plant was capable of generating a little under 17 megawatts of energy. However, within a year, cooler groundwater had flowed into the reservoir, reducing its temperature of 420 degrees Fahrenheit by over 25%. There was a corresponding reduction in generative capacity.

Over the next several years, engineers and geologists attempted to restore the plant's capacity by drilling new production wells, which had the result of reducing geothermal pressure. Nonetheless, full capacity was ultimately restored in 1996.

Ten years later, the Sierra Pacific Power Company contracted to purchase energy from the Beowawe facility.

Asbestos has long been recognized as an industrial hazard. It was used extensively in power plants of all types because of its resistance to flame, heat and electricity.

Industrial health and safety experts have long stated that power plant workers run some of the highest risk of asbestos disease of any industry. A 2003 study from Puerto Rico that was first published in 2007 has confirmed this. Doctors took chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers that were then examined and analyzed. When tobacco use was taken into account, more than 130 of the images showed early indications of asbestos disease.

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were a form of insulation that was commonly used almost every industry between the 1860s and the early 1980s. These were found in virtually any area in which heat, flame, electricity and corrosive chemicals were likely to cause injury and property damage. As these materials aged, they became “friable,” which is a crumbling state in which asbestos fibers are released into the environment. These fibers were then inhaled and ingested by employees; they could also become lodged in hair and clothing, where family members were subjected to secondary exposure as these fibers were introduced into the home.

Diagnosing mesothelioma has long been a challenge to pathologists. Early symptoms are similar to those of several other respiratory diseases; by the time more specific symptoms begin to appear (usually years after initial exposure), the cancer has reached its final stages. Most patients who are diagnosed at this point do not survive more than two years at most. Mesothelioma chemotherapy can treat the cancer however, and is available from doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.

Those who were employed at Beowawe as well as spouses and children should tell their family physicians about any asbestos exposure they may have experienced. Newly-developed diagnostic tools now enable pathologists to detect the markers of mesothelioma during its early stages when the treatment is far more likely to be effective.

Because of its resistance to heat, flame and electrical current, asbestos (which occurs in forms such as chrysotile, crocidolite and amosite) was often utilized throughout many factories, mills, power plants and worksites across the country. Even though asbestos' strength as an insulator undoubtedly saved lives, the unforeseen consequences of using it were devastating, and untold numbers of men and women contracted serious illness from asbestos exposure. The reason for this is that strands of asbestos, when inhaled, embed themselves into internal organs and cause debilitating illnesses such as pleural plaques and lung cancer. Also, mesothelioma, a fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, has been proven to be caused by mild to moderate asbestos exposure.

Because medical science has demonstrated the relationship between being exposed to asbestos and illnesses like lung cancer, present-day laborers are protected by health and safety statutes that prescribe how asbestos is handled. Even up to the late 1900s, however, workers commonly were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos particles was not filtered; in many cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were unknown. In addition, workers carried asbestos strands home on their clothes or in their hair when decontamination procedures weren't offered at the workplace; as a result, this potentially deadly mineral also put at risk children of those who worked around asbestos.

As conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma may not develop until 20 years or more after a person first is exposed to asbestos, those who had jobs at exposed sites, as well as family members of such workers, should talk about their history of asbestos exposure with their doctors regardless of how far back they worked there.



Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. New York: Touchstone, 2003.

Cabrera-Santiago, Manuel et al. "Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Electrical Power Generation Workers in Puerto Rico." Presentation at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, 2007.

Caithness Energy Website. “About Beowawe.”

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