Enrico Fermi Station

The Enrico Fermi Nuclear Power Station is a single-unit nuclear power plant situated near Monroe, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Erie. The plant’s current and sole operating power generating unit, Fermi Unit 2, is a General Electric boiling water reactor rated at 1122 MW. Commissioned in 1988, its license is set to expire in 2025. Detroit Edison, the plant’s operator and a subsidiary of the plant’s owner, DTE Energy, currently has an application filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the proposed installation of a third reactor, which would be a 1520 MW General Electric Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor. The plant, which was designed by the engineering firm of Sargent and Lundy and located between Toledo and Detroit, currently produces 8,314 GWh a year for area residents in its present configuration.

The plant’s original reactor, Fermi 1, was an experimental fast breeder reactor that was in development and intermittent operation at the site from 1957 to 1972. The unit is famous for a partial meltdown it suffered on October 5, 1966, when a malfunctioning spigot impeded the flow of cooled liquid sodium into the reactor core. The loss of coolant caused several of the reactor’s fuel rod subassemblies to reach temperatures of 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which in turn led to a partial meltdown of the core. Despite subsequent attempts to restore Fermi 1 to normal operations, the prototype 94 MW unit was never restored to full capacity and was subsequently retired in 1972. According to the NRC, no radioactive particles were released into the environment by this incident.

A far less dangerous event took place on June 6, 2010, when a tornado damaged the building housing Fermi Unit 2. Though none of its nuclear systems were breached or otherwise compromised, Unit 2 was automatically shut down, causing a blackout for 30,000 area residents.

Though neither of these incidents resulted in fatalities, it is an unfortunate fact that many nuclear reactors built around the time of the Fermi Power Station made heavy use of asbestos during construction.  The generation of nuclear power creates a large amount of heat, and as a result, the facilities and the machines inside must be carefully insulated.  Before the 1980s, the material used to add heat resistance to insulating materials was often asbestos.  Ultimately, this proved to be extremely damaging to the health of those that worked with the materials, and many former nuclear power plant employees are suffering from the delayed health effects of exposure to the dangerous mineral.