The Waterford Nuclear Power Plant is a nuclear-powered electrical generating station in Killona, Louisiana in St. Charles Parish. The facility is owned and operated by the Entergy Corporation's nuclear power division.
Also known as the Waterford Steam Electric Station, the facility operates a single two-loop pressurized water reactor (PWR) built by Combustion Engineering and has a generative capacity of just over 1.2 gigawatts.
The pressurized water reactor uses a “closed-loop” high-pressure coolant system that prevents boiling while producing the heat necessary to drive the turbines; in this sense, it differs little from more conventional coal and oil-fired plants. The main advantage is that workers and the community are not exposed to toxic emissions that are associated with the burning of fossil fuels, although the danger of radiation leaks is always present and disposing of spent uranium fuel in an environmentally safe manner poses many challenges.
Asbestos is a constant hazard in most power generation plants however. Whether gas, coal or oil-fired, hydroelectric or nuclear, virtually every power plant constructed prior to the 1980s contained asbestos throughout their structures as well as the machinery itself.
Amphibole asbestos is an excellent electrical insulator, and was used extensively throughout the construction of power generation facilities such as Waterford. ACMs could be found in electrical cloth, conduits and even the machinery itself, including turbines and generators. Asbestos inside machinery has especially hazardous, since it could eject millions of friable asbestos fibers into the immediate environment while in motion.
A Puerto Rican study published in 2007 examined the chest x-rays of over 1,100 workers; more than 130 of them showed signs of asbestos disease. Employees were not the only ones who were at risk from asbestos; they unwittingly brought asbestos into their homes in their clothing and hair, resulting in secondary exposure among family members.
Diseases such as asbestos cancer (lung cancer and mesothelioma) and asbestosis are serious risks among power plant workers – and their families as well, since asbestos fibers were able to travel home in workers' hair and on their clothing. Several recent court cases have demonstrated the danger of such “secondary exposure.”
Mesothelioma is a very slow-growing malignancy; early symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory disease (it can affect the abdominal cavity and heart as well), and may not appear until two to six decades after the patient's first exposure to asbestos. It is therefore a very difficult disease to diagnose, and by the time such a diagnosis is confirmed, the disease is usually far advanced. Patients usually do not survive more than two years after such a diagnosis. Still, treatments are available for patients such as mesothelioma chemotherapy and can be provided by doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Harvard University's Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
This site was one of countless factories, mills, power plants and worksites that, during the first two-thirds of the 20th century, utilized asbestos for its ability to resist fire. It is ironic that saving lives was almost always one of the main justifications behind using asbestos in companies because the result was in fact to put workers in danger of serious illness due to contact with asbestos. The reason large numbers of employees have suffered from diseases including asbestosis and lung cancer is that when humans inhale or ingest particles of asbestos, the mineral embeds itself into respiratory passages; once there, the tiny, jagged bits of asbestos damage tissues. In addition, mesothelioma, which is a fast-growing and mostly untreatable cancer affecting the lining surrounding the lungs, is associated with even low levels of asbestos exposure.
Those who work around asbestos now are generally safe from inhalation due to the extensive body of laws controlling its use, inclusion in products and demolition. People who worked near asbestos-containing materials before such laws were passed, on the other hand, commonly spent their days in sites where asbestos was prevalent, and they as a rule received little or no information regarding how to minimize risks when dealing with the mineral. Family members were also exposed to asbestos when companies didn't provide ways for employees to wash off asbestos fibers, because employees inadvertently transported asbestos dust to their homes on their skin or in their hair.
Asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma often take 20 years or more to develop, and the signs of these illnesses can be mistaken for those of less serious conditions, so men and women who worked at such facilities in the past, as well as family members of such workers, are advised to talk with their doctors about their history of asbestos exposure.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception. (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.
Entergy Corporation. "Entergy - About Entergy." entergy.com. 2009.