The Clinton Power Station is a fairly new nuclear facility in Illinois. Owned and operated by the Exelon Corporation since 1999, the Clinton Station came online in April 1987. Its single unit, designed by General Electric, has a generative capacity of over 1 gigawatt, sufficient to power one million average homes and small businesses. The plant is maintained and operated by a staff of 530 workers.
History and Prospects
The plant's design and construction was originally financed by the Illinois Power Company. When Exelon purchased the plant for $40 million, the company assumed responsibility and potential liability for all remaining fuel as well as radioactive waste materials stored on the site.
The current reactor is licensed for operation until September 2026. In 2003, Exelon submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the construction of a second reactor. The application was finally approved in 2007, but the company has not yet decided whether or not the second reactor will be built.
Despite the fact that the Clinton Station has received recognition for its efforts in maintaining the local environment, the company has been fined for safety violations on two occasions. However, these were related to plant operations; neither were connected to a serious worker hazard.
On the surface, it seems inexcusable that Illinois Power and its contractors would have knowingly used asbestos-containing materials in the construction of the Clinton Plant. After all, by the time work on the plant was underway, the dangers of asbestos in the workplace were well known.
Regardless of the power source, asbestos has been a problem associated with all types of electrical generation plants – particularly those constructed prior to 1980.
Prior to that time, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used extensively throughout the construction of power generation plants as well as other industries. The reasons have to do with the hazards typically encountered in such facilities: flame, heat and electricity, and caustic substances. “Blue” crocidolite asbestos is a particularly effective electrical insulator; it is also one of the deadliest varieties of asbestos, known to cause mesothelioma.
ACMs were employed in virtually everything from flame-retardant paint to the very machinery used to generate power. It was particularly hazardous in this context, as the moving parts could eject millions of fibers into the building environment. This was dangerous not only for workers who inhaled such fibers, but their family members as well when fibers that had settled in workers' hair and clothing were brought into the home resulted in secondary exposure.
A research study in Puerto Rico involved the examination of chest x-rays from 1100 power plant workers. Signs of asbestos disease was noted in over 130 of the images. Power plants are regarded by industrial medicine experts as some of the most hazardous industrial worksites for asbestos exposure.
Anyone with an employment history at Clinton should get regular medical checkups and ongoing health monitoring. Asbestos cancers such as mesothelioma are deadly, but if caught in their earliest stages, can sometimes be treated successfully. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is sometimes available for patients and may be provided by physicians such as Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was commonplace for plants, mills, and factories to be constructed with the mineral asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. Although the use of asbestos was generally considered a way to protect human life, it sadly all too often had the opposite effect. Asbestos exposure at the workplace has resulted in illness and death for untold numbers people. The disorders linked to exposure to asbestos include asbestosis and lung cancer; the largest risk of contracting these conditions occurs when asbestos-containing products become fragile, releasing strands into the environment where they are available to inhale. Also, job-related contact with asbestos is the primary cause of the almost always fatal cancer known as mesothelioma, which affects the cells that line the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (pericardial mesothelioma).
Because numerous studies have uncovered the relationship between inhaling asbestos and conditions like mesothelioma, 21st-century laborers are protected by government regulations that control how asbestos is handled. In earlier days, however, workers often were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was unfiltered; in many cases, safety procedures were little understood. Spouses and children were also subjected to asbestos exposure when workplaces failed to provide showers, because employees took asbestos dust home with them in their work garments.
People who worked at this site at any time in the past, as well as those who lived with them, should learn more about these health conditions and tell their healthcare professionals about their history of asbestos exposure, because the symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses are often difficult to distinguish from those of other, less serious conditions.Sources
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.
“Nuclear Power Industry Wins First Site Approval in 30 Years.” Environmental News Service, 9 March 2007.
Exelon Corporate website. “Clinton Power Station.”