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Monticello Nuclear Power Plant

The Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant is located in Monticello, Minnesota along the banks of the Mississippi River. The plant came online in 1971 and has a generative capacity of 613 megawatts, with plans to expand this to 700. The single unit is a nuclear reactor designed and built by GE.

Monticello is joined and operated by the Northern States Power Company, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy. It has the distinction of being one of only two nuclear generation facilities in the U.S. that has never been cited for violations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Monticello is licensed for operations through 2030.

In September 2008, the plant was offline temporarily for repairs when an employee for a rental equipment company was electrocuted because of a power line outside the facility. Power generation facilities are known for their hazards; one such hazard is less dramatic, but far more insidious and deadly.

Power plants such as Monticello that were constructed before 1980 contained large amounts of asbestos insulation. Asbestos is resistant not only to heat and flame, but electrical current as well. Although it has saved lives and prevented billions of dollars in property loss over the decades, those who contracted asbestos diseases have paid a heavy price.

Asbestos illness has been established as a work-related hazard for those employed at power generation facilities. In a Puerto Rican study published in 2007, over 130 out of 1100 chest x-rays from such workers showed signs of asbestos disease.

Generators, boilers and turbine combustion engines and thermal control devices were all insulated with asbestos-containing materials at a time when few people outside the boardrooms of W.R. Grace, Inc., Johns-Manville and Raysbestos as well as a handful of medical researchers were aware of the health hazards of asbestos.

Today, those connections are well-known. Starting in the late 1970s, both the EPA and OSHA have issued strict regulations that govern worker safety as well as asbestos issues in general. However, a asbestos disease usually has a very long latency period; symptoms usually take decades to develop, and by the time they are diagnosed, it is usually too late.

The good news is that recent tools have been developed that allow pathologists to detect early signs of asbestos disease; it is therefore important to discuss asbestos exposure with your primary care physician and receive regular checkups if possible.

This installation was one of numerous factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, during the first 70 years of the 1900s, used the naturally occurring mineral known as asbestos because of its ability to withstand fire. It is ironic that reducing the risk of injury was generally one of the primary justifications behind utilizing asbestos in places for the outcome was in fact to place laborers in danger of serious illness or death due to exposure to asbestos. The reason is that strands of asbestos, when inhaled or ingested, embed themselves into the lungs, leading to life-threatening illnesses such as asbestosis and lung cancer. In addition, mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, is known to be caused by mild to moderate exposure to asbestos. When caught early mesothelioma chemotherapy can be used by doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital to treat the cancer.

Because numerous studies have demonstrated the link between being exposed to asbestos and conditions like lung cancer, 21st-century workers are protected by government regulations that control how asbestos is used. In earlier days, however, workers commonly were expected to toil in spaces in which air filled with asbestos particles was not filtered; in most cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were little understood. Spouses were also subjected to asbestos exposure if employers didn't offer workplace-only uniforms, as employees inadvertently transported asbestos particles home with them on their clothes or in their hair.

Diseases such as mesothelioma frequently take decades to manifest, and the symptoms of these disorders can be difficult to distinguish from those of other conditions, so those who worked at these sites in the past, as well as family members of such workers, are encouraged to chat with their medical care providers about their history of asbestos exposure.

Sources

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. “Monticello Nuclear Power Plant, Minnesota.”
http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/at_a_glance/reactors/monticello.html

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