The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is the smallest nuclear facility in the U.S. with a generative capacity of no more than 500 megawatts. Owned by the Omaha Public Power District, this facility underwent major renovations in 2006. The current operating license permits operations through 2033.
Asbestos was commonly and abundantly used frequently in almost every type of industry. Although asbestos' usefulness as an insulator as well as its low cost prevented thousands of fire-related deaths; more importantly, it has saved perhaps billions of dollars in property damage and business losses. Asbestos was used to insulate many parts of power generation for several decades prior to the 1980s, after which most types of asbestos were gradually phased out. Existing asbestos, as it aged, had a tendency to become brittle and crumble into dust. In this state, it is known as friable; asbestos materials in this condition was generally removed or sealed up with resin. However, this did not happen before workers were exposed to billions of these fibers.
A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 strongly supports what industrial health and safety experts have been saying for some time: power plants pose a high degree of asbestos exposure risk to employees. The Puerto Rican study showed signs of asbestos exposure in 13% of subjects who participated.
The reason is the extensive use of asbestos insulation throughout the construction of power generating facilities. Such insulation was also used in the machinery as well; crocidolite asbestos is quite effective as an electrical insulator.
Not only were workers at risk, but their families as well. Asbestos fibers could become lodged in the hair and in clothing and carried into the home. Several court cases in recent years have involved secondary exposure, in which family members contracted an asbestos disease as the result of this type of exposure.
Asbestos disease is fairly rare, but it is painful, expensive to treat and invariably fatal unless diagnosed in its earliest stages. Symptoms of mesothelioma often do not appear until many years or even decades after a person first is exposed to asbestos. Men and women who were employed at an Edison facility, as well as their family members, should discuss their history of exposure to asbestos with their physicians and get checked as regularly as possible. Doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. can treat the cancer with mesothelioma chemotherapy when it is caught early.
In the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it was usual for plants, mills, and factories to be built with asbestos because it offered high resistance to transferring heat and electricity. While asbestos' abilities as an insulator certainly protected people and property in the short term, the unforeseen results of using it were tragic: numerous people suffered serious illness from exposure to asbestos. The reason large numbers of employees have died from illnesses including asbestosis and cancer is that when humans inhale asbestos fibers, the mineral infiltrates respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage cells. Furthermore, job-related contact with asbestos can cause the extremely hard to treat form of cancer called mesothelioma, which develops as a tumor of the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (pericardial mesothelioma).
People who work around asbestos today are usually safe from inhalation due to the numerous guidelines regulating its utilization, presence at job sites and scrapping. Even up to the last part of the 20th century, however, laborers all too often were told to toil in areas in which air filled with asbestos dust was unfiltered; in most cases, the dangers posed by asbestos inhalation were little understood. And if the employer failed to offer showers, workers took asbestos dust home with them in their clothes and hair, thereby exposing others in their household to the risk of asbestos-related diseases.
People who worked at this site during their career, as well as family members of such workers, are encouraged to learn more about these health conditions and tell their healthcare professionals about their history of contact with asbestos, because the signs of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma are often difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions.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.
Energy Information Agency. “Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant, Nebraska.”