Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant

Because of technical problems and shutting down the facility after only a year of operation, the Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant never really got off the ground. It was built near Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1966 as an experimental standard by Northern States Power Company with a goal of obtaining experience in the operation of nuclear power stations. The plant produced 66 megawatts of power when operating at its full potential.

The Pathfinder Atomic Power Plant had only to run half an hour at its maximum output for it to become obvious that it was not safe to operate. The project was not a complete loss, though, as it taught many valuable lessons to be used in atomic power stations that followed. The Pathfinder Power Plant ceased operations in October of 1967.  The nuclear fuel was shipped offsite in 1970, and soon thereafter it was converted to a gas and oil powered station.

In 1990, the nuclear reactor was removed and taken to Washington State for safe disposal in a low-level radioactive material dump. What was left of the plant was redone to operate on natural gas or oil, and continued in service until 2000, when a cooling tower collapsed.  However, Xcel Energy had built the Angus C. Anson Generating Station on the property in 1994, and that plant continues to operate today.

Having been constructed in the 1960s, the Pathfinder Plant very likely used asbestos to insulate its piping. To create steam which was then used to turn its turbines and create electricity, the plant used a boiling water reactor. To keep water pipes from overheating, many plants covered them with asbestos, thereby exposing plant workers to the dangerous asbestos fibers. Though the plant did not operate for long, there was plenty of opportunity for probable asbestos exposure, for the construction workers who built the plant, the employees who worked there during its brief operation, and those who renovated or demolished Pathfinder’s old facilities

Mesothelioma is a rare and fatal cancer almost always caused by exposure to asbestos. Symptoms of this cancer can show up for as long as 50 years after exposure, so individuals who worked at power plants like Pathfinder may still be at risk for developing symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.