Fort St. Vrain Station
Fort St. Vrain was the first nuclear power in the state of Colorado, located in Platteville. The power plant began operating in 1977, and at the time was one of two high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGR). Although the plant produced power successfully for 15 years, it had many problems that eventually led to halting operations in 1989.
Many of the problems were a result of the helium circulator, which used a water cooling system to keep the temperature under control. Steam pressure variations and water corrosion were major problems at this plant, and electrical issues also contributed to the problem. It was in 1989 that a crucial reactor part was discovered as being corroded for years before it was replaced. This last issue was the final straw, and the plant was shut down in 1989. By 1992 the plant had been decommissioned and all remaining fuel had been removed.
Although the plant’s nuclear days came to an end in the early 1990s, it found a new life as a natural gas plant. The first combustion turbine for natural gas was installed in 1996, and two more were installed in 2001. Ironically, the plant produces three times more electricity as a natural gas facility than it did as a nuclear-powered facility. In its current reincarnation, the Fort St. Vrain plant is capable of producing a capacity of 965 megawatts of electricity. Additional updates were made in 2009 to keep up with the demands of summertime electricity use. The factory in its current design is environmentally frugal; excess heat that would normally be vented into the atmosphere is being recaptured, turned into steam and used to power the original steam turbine.
Though the latest renovations have likely brought the Fort St. Vrain Station in line with contemporary health and environmental regulations, many power plants built in the 1960s and 1970s, as this one was, contained large amounts of asbestos in the facilities and machinery. Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral known for its fibrous structure and heat-resistant properties, provided effective insulation for the power generation industry to protect expensive equipment; however, asbestos would prove to be extremely dangerous to the health of those who worked in the plants. Many times, employers knew of this danger but chose not to inform their workers. Sadly, some power plant workers have developed mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs, as a direct result of their exposure to asbestos.