Columbia Generating Station

Columbia Nuclear Generating Station is located on 1,089 acres of land northwest of Richland, Washington, and began operating in 1984, construction having begun in 1975. The plant is both operated and owned by Energy Northwest and currently runs a single unit that has the capacity to produce 1150 megawatts. This unit is capable of generating 8,109 GWh per year in energy. This electricity is enough to supply Washington State with 9% of its yearly need and is vital to the residents of the surrounding areas as it is the only nuclear power station in the whole of the Pacific Northwest.

Environmentally, nuclear power stations are renowned for being cleaner than coal powered plants. Despite this, the Columbia Nuclear Generating Station still emits over 2.5 million short tons of sulfur dioxide, nearly one million short tons of nitrogen oxide and 689 million metric tons of carbon dioxide on an annual basis. While this may sound like quite a bit, it is substantially less than coal power stations produce.

The main environmental concern with nuclear power plants is the disposal of the radioactive waste that they produce. In the case of Columbia Generating Station, this is done at the same site as the facility, with used fuel rods stored in a dry cask installation. Currently there are 27 casks in this installation, leaving plenty of room for future use.

During the time when Columbia Generating Station was being constructed, asbestos was commonly installed in power plants. Asbestos has resulted in increased health risks for those who used to work at plants and similar facilities.  The material has been known to cause various cancers as a result of breathing in the harmful dust and debris that used to be found at such plants. Asbestos-related diseases include lung scarring, asbestosis, and a form of cancer called mesothelioma.

Though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently requires workers who encounter asbestos to use proper protective gear, including a mask and a respirator, it is too late for many who were exposed to asbestos in past decades.  The fibers can persist in the body for years, causing serious health problems long after exposure has stopped.