Dresden Nuclear Generating Station

The Dresden Generating Station is a nuclear power plant located at the headwaters of the Illinois River near Morris, Illinois, in Grundy County. Its two General Electric boiling water reactors, Units 2 and 3, which entered service in 1970 and 1971, respectively, have a design capacity to produce 912 megawatts of electrical power each. Unit 1, which operated from 1960 until being decommissioned in 1978, was Dresden’s original power generating unit and the first privately funded nuclear reactor in the United States. The American Nuclear Society has designated it a “Nuclear Historic Landmark.” In 2004, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the licenses of the remaining reactors to 2029 for Unit 2 and 2031 for Unit 3.

The Dresden Generating Station is currently owned by Exelon, an electrical power generating and service company. Exelon acquired the Dresden facility in 2000 when it was formed from a merger that included Unicom-owned Commonwealth Edison, the plant’s original owner and operator. The plant was designed and constructed by the engineering firm of Sargent & Lundy, with the nuclear engineering firm Babcock and Wilcox installing the reactor vessels for Units 2 and 3. In 2010, the site generated a total of 14,593,127 megawatt hours, enough to power as many as one million homes throughout Chicago and northern Illinois. As of 2010, the plant is operating at about 95% capacity.

Though Exelon owns and operates several nuclear power plants, the reactor and containment systems at Dresden are sister units to the General Electric Mark I units at the Quad Cities Nuclear Generating Station. This is also the same system in place at the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors in Japan. The only incident at Dresden that has resulted in a loss of reactor operation was a temporary shut-down of Units 2 and 3 in July of 1987 that was caused by a problem with the feedwater regulator valve. An equipment fire in 1990 also caused a loss of off-site power. Neither of these incidents resulted in a release of radioactive particles or damage to the reactor cores.

Despite the facility’s safe record of operation regarding the nuclear components, other materials likely housed in the facility pose another threat to employees. One such material, asbestos, was used heavily in industrial construction, especially as an insulator against the high heat and fire risks associated with these nuclear facilities. Despite its ability to effectively insulate, this material also posed an environmental hazard to employees as it leads to the development of several lethal diseases if introduced into the body. Among these diseases is mesothelioma, which has a latency period of up to 50 years that makes its diagnosis and subsequent treatment extremely difficult.