The nuclear-powered Wolf Creek Generating station is located outside of Burlington Kansas along the banks of the creek for which it is named. The facility first came online in the summer of 1985 and currently has a generative capacity of 1.2 gigawatts. Wolf Creek is owned jointly by Kansas City Power & Light, Kansas Gas & Electric and the Kansas Electric Power Cooperative. The equipment used to generate power was designed by engineers at General Electric.
The only real difference between a nuclear power plant and one that is coal, oil or gas-fired is in the nature of the method by which heat is generated. In conventional plants, boilers are heated the same way they have been since Robert Fulton built the first steam engine in the 18th century. In a nuclear plant, the heat is generated by a reaction similar to a controlled nuclear explosion; the fuel employed for this reaction is uranium (which incidentally, is not of the same grade as that used for nuclear weapons).
The upside of nuclear power is that workers are not exposed to the same toxic fumes and other poisons associated with fossil fuels. Radiation leaks are possible, though rare; the main hazard for nuclear power plant workers however is asbestos poisoning.
By the time Wolf Creek was built, the hazards of asbestos were well-known. The secret came out in 1977, when documents known as the “Sumner Simpson Papers” came to light during asbestos litigation, revealing that the corporations that manufactured and marketed asbestos containing products had in fact known about asbestos toxicity for over forty years and had colluded in suppression of this information.
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.
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. With early diagnosis doctors like Dr. David Sugarbaker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA. can treat the cancer with mesothelioma chemotherapy.
Through the 1970s, it was extremely common for industrial sites of all types to be built with asbestos because of its insulating properties. While asbestos' strength as an insulator undoubtedly saved lives, the eventual consequences of its use were devastating, and numerous people contracted serious illness because of asbestos exposure. The reason large numbers of people have suffered from health conditions including asbestosis and cancer of the lungs is that when humans inhale or ingest asbestos strands, the mineral infiltrates respiratory passages; once there, the sharp, microscopic spikes damage tissues. In addition, mesothelioma, the rare but deadly cancer of the lining surrounding the lungs, has been proven to be caused by even low levels of asbestos exposure.
Because science has demonstrated the link between asbestos exposure and illnesses like mesothelioma, present-day workers are protected by laws that prescribe how asbestos is used. Those who worked near asbestos-containing materials before such laws were passed, on the other hand, often spent their shifts in sites where asbestos was prevalent, and they as a rule received little or no guidance about safe ways to handle the mineral. In addition, employees carried asbestos to their homes on their work clothes when showers weren't offered at the job site; as a result, the potentially deadly mineral also endangered children of those who worked with asbestos.
As health conditions like asbestosis and mesothelioma don't develop until decades after a person first is exposed to asbestos, people who were employed at contaminated sites, as well as their family members, are encouraged to talk about their history of contact with asbestos with their medical care providers regardless of how long ago they worked there.Sources
"About Wolf Creek." Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation. 2008. 25 Apr 2009,
Bowker, Michael. Deadly Deception. (New York: Touchstone, 2003).
"NRC: Pressurized Water Reactors." US NRC. 01 October 2008. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 25 Apr 2009,