The Cooper Nuclear Station (CNS) came online in July 1974 and has a generative capacity of just over 790 megawatts. It is owned and operated by the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), and accounts for approximately 20% of the District's generated electrical energy. NPPD has contracted with a private corporation, Entergy Nuclear, to provide support services until 2014.
Although there are legitimate concerns over the safety of nuclear power plants, CNS has operated for over thirty years without incident; the local environment is continually monitored for signs of radioactive contamination. In addition, nuclear fuel does not result in the toxic emissions associated with fossil fuels. It is also far more efficient in terms of consumption; approximately four kilograms of uranium can produce as much power as 10,000 tons of coal or four million liters of fuel oil.
Regardless of how the energy is generated however, all power plants built prior to the 1980s have asbestos issues.
Most asbestos customers such as the NPPD were unaware of the dangers posed by asbestos; construction engineers only knew that such materials could prevent deaths from fire injuries as well as millions of dollars in property damage. The health hazards of asbestos were kept hidden from the public by a corporate conspiracy on the part of asbestos product manufacturers for over four decades before a 1977 court case forced it into the open – starting a flood of litigation over the next quarter-century.
Since then, several research studies have confirmed the fact that power plant workers face an abnormally high risk of asbestos disease. One such study was conducted in Puerto Rico in 2003 and published in 2007. Doctors in that country examined the chest x-rays of 1100 power plant workers; even after tobacco use was accounted for, 130 of the x-rays showed signs of respiratory disease.
Areas of power generation plants where asbestos materials were likely to be found include:
- electrical cloth
- fire doors
- pipe and conduit lagging
- work surfaces
Workers were not the only ones affected; asbestos fibers were often lodged in workers' hair and clothing and unknowingly brought into the home, exposing family members; such secondary exposure has been shown to cause asbestos disease among children and spouses of power plant employees.
Anyone who worked at the Diablo Canyon plant prior to the 1980s should advise their family doctors and receive frequent checkups if possible. Asbestos cancer such as mesothelioma takes decades to show symptoms, by which time the disease is usually in its final stages. However, recent advances have resulted in new diagnostic tools that have enabled pathologists to detect the early “markers” of such cancer. Early detection means more effective treatments and much better outcomes.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was extremely common for many industrial facilities to be constructed with the naturally occurring, fibrous mineral known as asbestos because it excelled at blocking fire. Even though asbestos' strength as an insulator undoubtedly protected people from injury and even death, the long-term results of using it were devastating: far too many men and women suffered serious illness from contact with asbestos. The reason so many people have fallen ill from health conditions including "miner's lung" and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale asbestos strands, the mineral remains in internal organs; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage cells. Furthermore, a history of contact with asbestos is a known cause of the deadly form of cancer known as mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the mesothelium, the tissue that lines the pleural cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the abdominal cavity (peritoneal mesothelioma).
Today, regulators understand the risks of asbestos exposure, and health and safety statutes ensure the well-being of employees who work with or near this dangerous substance. In the past, however, workers without protective equipment often toiled in places where asbestos dust filled the air. Family members were also exposed to asbestos when job sites failed to provide showers, because employees took asbestos particles home with them in their clothes and hair.
As conditions like mesothelioma often don't manifest until decades after a person first is exposed to asbestos, people who were employed at contaminated plants, as well as their family members, should talk about their history of asbestos contact with their physicians no matter how long ago they worked there. The cancer can be treated when caught early with treatments like mesothelioma chemotherapy, which can be provided by doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker in Boston, MA. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.Sources
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.
Nebraska Public Power District. “About CNS.”