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Vogtle Power Plant

Formally known as the Alvin W. Vogtle Power Plant, this two-unit nuclear facility first went online in 1987, making it one of the newer such power stations. Located on the banks of the Savannah River between Waynesboro and Augusta, the plant has a total generative capacity of over 2.4 gigawatts. This power is generated by two steam turbines manufactured by General Electric.

History and Ownership

Vogtle is maintained and operated by a staff of 800 in addition to full-time on-site inspectors from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that ensure compliance with all safety and operation standards.

The Vogtle Power Plant employees approximately 800 people in a variety of different positions including mechanics, engineers, control room operators, electricians, instrument and control technicians, lab technicians and security officers. The plant's operation is overseen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The (NRC) has full-time inspectors on-site at the power plant to ensure that the plant is operated and maintained efficiently, safely and in compliance with the established procedure for operating nuclear power plants.

The Vogtle Power Plant is owned jointly by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton. Actual operation of the plant is carried out by the Southern Nuclear Operating Company. This company recently applied for two additional operating and construction permits, which is a lengthy process; although the application is pending and may very well be approved, additional reactors are unlikely to be built for several years.

Toxic Hazards

Numerous containers of nuclear waste are stored on the site. In addition, recent water tests indicate that local water sources have been contaminated with radionuclides; in addition, the Vogtle Plant has been a named defendant in several asbestos lawsuits.

Considering that the Vogtle Plant was constructed after the hazards of asbestos had been established beyond all doubt, it seems inexcusable that such asbestos materials were used at all, yet this appears to be the case.

Because of heat and fire danger, asbestos-containing materials were used extensively throughout the construction of power plants. Asbestos has been identified as a job-related safety issue in virtually all power generation facilities constructed prior to the early 1980s. Asbestos offers excellent resistance to both heat and electrical current. Asbestos insulation was used in fire doors, around conduits and inside the machinery itself. While the asbestos-containing materials used in the construction and machinery of power plants were unlikely to pose a major health hazard to the general public, they have been proven to be a serious health risk to power plant maintenance workers and engineers.

A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 signs of asbestos disease in over 130 out of 1100 chest x-rays that had been taken of power plant workers in that country. The findings were further validated by the removal of factors such as tobacco from the data.

Although harmless in its solid state, asbestos materials become brittle with age and begin to crumble into dust. In this condition, it is called friable; asbestos dust is released into the environment. It can be inhaled by workers and often settles in the hair and on the clothing. Family members then receive secondary exposure when such asbestos materials are carried into the home.

This installation was one of thousands of factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, in the first 70 years of the last century, used asbestos for its ability to insulate against electrical current. While asbestos' abilities as an insulator certainly saved lives, the unexpected results of using it were horrible, and untold numbers of people developed serious illness due to contact with asbestos. The reason for this is that asbestos fibers, if inhaled or ingested, embed themselves into internal organs, leading to life-threatening health conditions including pleural plaques and lung cancer. Also, a history of exposure to asbestos can cause the almost always fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma, which affects the cells that line the chest cavity (pleural mesothelioma) or the stomach (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Because researchers have uncovered the link between being exposed to asbestos and conditions like mesothelioma, modern-day employees are protected by government regulations that control how asbestos is used. In earlier days, though, workers frequently were expected to toil in areas in which asbestos dust was not filtered; in many cases, the risks of asbestos exposure were unknown. And if companies did not provide decontamination methods, employees carried particles of asbestos home in their clothes and hair, which exposed others in their household to this deadly toxin.

Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma often take a very long time to appear, and symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from those of less serious conditions; therefore, men and women who worked at these installations at any time in the past, as well as their spouses and children, are advised to chat with their medical care providers about their history of asbestos contact. Mesothelioma chemotherapy is available for some asbestos cancer patients and can be provided by Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA.

Sources

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.

“Plant Vogtle - Southern Company” Southern Company.
http://www.southernco.com/southernnuclear/vogtle.asp

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. (http://www.bredl.org/nuclear/Vogtle.htm

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