Arkansas Nuclear One

Arkansas Nuclear One is a nuclear power plant located in Russellville, Arkansas on the shores of Lake Dardanelle. It utilizes two pressurized water reactors to feed two power generation units. Unit 1, commissioned in 1974, uses a reactor core supplied by Babcock and Wilcox to power a Westinghouse turbine generator. Entering service in 1980, Unit 2 relies on a Combustion Engineering reactor to drive a General Electric turbine.

Combined, Units 1 and 2 are capable of producing over 1800 megawatts of electricity. While Unit 2 has a hyperbolic cooling tower, Unit 1 releases heat directly into Lake Dardanelle, though lake water never makes contact with the reactor and thus remains uncontaminated by radiation. Owned by Entergy Arkansas and operated by Entergy Nuclear, construction of the plant began in 1969 and was carried out by Bechtel Power. The units are licensed to operate until 2034 for unit 1 and 2038 for unit 2.

The first nuclear power plant in the general southwestern region of the United States, Arkansas Nuclear One remains the sole station in the state of Arkansas. When Arkansas Power and Light, as Entergy Arkansas was then named, won the permit to construct the plant in 1968 the decision to locate it in Russellville was applauded as one of the greatest developments in the history of the region. Today the plant remains one of the largest employers in Pope County and an integral part of the economy of Russellville, which is a town of about 27,000. Unit 2’s cooling tower, which stands in sharp contrast to the gently rolling hills of the nearby Ozark landscape, is Lake Dardanelle’s primary landmark.

Though Arkansas Nuclear One has an excellent safety record and has generally received high marks from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a swarm of moderate earthquakes that struck central Arkansas from the summer of 2010 into the spring of 2011 motivated some press organizations to question the plant’s durability in light of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis. Officials at the nuclear plant, however, have stated that Arkansas Nuclear One is built to withstand shocks as high as 8 on the Mercalli earthquake scale. They have also noted that it is impossible for Lake Dardanelle to be affected by a tsunami.

Despite the facility’s apparent freedom from the threat of earthquake, the materials used in older plants, like this one, pose an additional threat to employees. One of the most popular insulators against heat in these facilities was asbestos, which was used heavily until regulation of it began in the 1970s. As a result of this plant’s construction in that decade, it remains likely this facility also held this dangerous material, which leads to the development of a lethal cancer known as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma develops after asbestos fibers become detached and are inhaled or ingested, allowing them to enter the body and irritate tissue until cancer develops. This cancer typically takes from 20 to 50 years to develop, catching most patients unaware when it finally does so.