San Onofre Station

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is located in Riverside City in San Diego County. It is operated by Southern California Edison has the capacity to generate much more than 2,000 megawatts. San Onofre Station’s first unit was decommissioned in 1992 and its other two units are responsible for generating all of the plants electricity. Because of its Californian location, the San Onofre Station was designed to stand against a 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

The station came on line in 1968.  Its two units are capable of producing a combined 2,200 megawatts, an amount sufficient to power 1.4 million homes.  While nuclear power remains somewhat controversial, Southern California Edison claims that the San Onofre Station has prevented the emission of 100,000 tons of pollutants and 180 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  The company also estimates that the nuclear station has saved its customers $250 million per year.

Unfortunately, some of those savings may have come at the cost of employees’ health, since one relatively inexpensive way to insulate nuclear power plants is by using asbestos.  Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that has been used for its fire proofing and heat resistant capabilities since the time of the ancient Greeks. Its use increased in the United States during the first and the Second World War. Similarly to those who worked in Navy shipyards, power plant employees were often exposed to asbestos. It was used not only as insulation for boiler rooms, but as protective gear against heat and caustic materials.

Though asbestos was inexpensive and a naturally mined material, it is now understood that the mineral can have devastatingly negative effects on long term health. Asbestos consists of fine, practically invisible fibers and these fibers are released into the air in power plants when the material containing asbestos is disturbed. The release of these fibers, coupled with the poor ventilation in most power plants, resulted in the increased inhalation and ingestion of the fibers.

When workers inhale or swallow, the asbestos fibers travel to and are lodged in the lining of the heart, stomach, and lungs. Over an extended period of time, if employees continue to breathe in these particles, the organ tissue is scarred and malignant cells develop and begin to metastasize. This can result in a cancer called mesothelioma.