Fort Calhoun Station

The Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is a nuclear power plant based in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. The plant first went on-line in August of 1973, and utilizes what is known as a PWR design, more commonly known as a pressurized water reactor. Recently, in the spring of 2006, the most complex renovation ever to be performed on such a reactor was successfully executed, bringing the plant up to date and ultimately allowed for the plant’s operating license to be renewed for another 20 years, until 2033.

Asbestos usage inside power plants built before or around 1980 is quite common. Asbestos was thought to be a cheap and effective fire retardant and due to the excessive heat generated by nuclear power plants, such as the Fort Calhoun plant, this type of insulation was deemed necessary to protect machinery at the time. The material can be found on boilers, turbines, generators, gaskets, cement, and floor and ceiling tiles. While attempting to protect the facilities from the extreme heat generated by the plant, asbestos usage exposed workers to serious health risks. Those risks were then brought home to the workers’ families and homes as asbestos fibers clung to clothing and skin.

In 2006, a massive overhaul of Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station was performed. During this renovation, asbestos abatement became a top priority. Steam generators and pressurizers were the primary target for abatement due to the need to remove them entirely from the plant before the project could proceed. Those components could not be safely removed by the renovation team until all traces of asbestos were eliminated.

Overall, the asbestos abatement and renovation of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station was incredibly successful and serves as the industry standard showing that such an incredible undertaking can be performed safely, on time, and on budget provided that adequate attention is given to the engineering and planning involved. While many power plants in the United States have completed similar renovations, several plants still do contain asbestos and will continue to pose a health risk to workers in the meantime.

One of the hazards of long term exposure to asbestos is mesothelioma,  an aggressive cancer with a latency period of 20 to 50 years. Since the cancer goes undetected for up to five decades, once a patient is diagnosed wih mesothelioma, the cancer is usually too advanced for conventional treatments.


Nuclear Regulatory Commission

U.S. Energy Information Administration