In 1966, the Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company began construction on a pressurized water reactor in Wiscasset, Maine. It took four years to complete the $231 million project. By 1972, the company was generating enough electricity to power nearly the entire state.
Before the plant was even constructed there was opposition from a group called Citizens for Safe Power. Although the group was not able to stop the construction of the plant, it did persuade the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to demand additional safety and environmental standards at the plant. Multiple attempts were made by concerned citizens to close the power plant in the 1980s. All of this attention made the Nuclear Regulatory Commission take notice, and in 1995 the commission started an investigation of the power plant and its safety practices.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission found so many safety concerns during the investigation that the plant closed in 1996. During its operational years, the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant produced over 119,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity. Because of the hazardous materials used within the walls of the plant, it was necessary to decommission the plant, which took eight years and cost $500 million. The nuclear reactor pressure vessel was shipped to another state. Workers gutted the facility, and then implosion was scheduled. Citizens still debate if all the hazardous waste was disposed properly.
During its operational years, Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant operated seven days a week. Workers were likely exposed to asbestos while the plant was operational, as the hazardous material was often used to insulate pipes, gaskets, valves, boilers and seal pumps. Although most power plants did make an effort to cover asbestos with resin to keep the hazardous fibers from escaping into the air, many workers had already been exposed before these safety measures were taken.
Three common health issues related to inhaling asbestos are mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. These are all health problems that take many years to develop, but by the time symptoms are noticed, it’s often too late for treatment. These illnesses not only affected plant workers, but also their families, who would come into contact with asbestos fibers that clung to the workers’ clothes, shoes, skin or hair. Former workers of the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant may continue to develop these debilitating illnesses today.