Asbestos Issues at San Onofre Generating Station

Asbestos Issues at San Onfre when Workers in Area 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station report that they have found friable asbestos at the facility, prompting restricted access to those sections.

The discovery came as preparations were being made to dismantle the buildings, readying the power plant for decommissioning.

Asbestos Issues at San Onofre Generating Station

The term “friable” refers to the fact that the asbestos is in a state that allows it to be easily crumbled by hand.

The plant’s operators, Southern California Edison, said they’re not surprised about the find, pointing out that asbestos was regularly used as an insulator back in the 1970s and early 1980s, when those two containment buildings were constructed.

They said they have all the appropriate safeguards in place to protect those who are working inside Area 2 and 3 and other parts of the facility that likely contain asbestos-related products.

Due to the findings, however, the dismantling of the buildings has slowed because Edison needs to bring in a testing and remediation firm that will address the asbestos problem.

There is no saying how long it will take to rid the containment buildings of the friable asbestos and if they’ll be able to get back on track after it’s gone.

The San Diego Union Tribune reports that the majority of the asbestos was found in cable trays, which are three-sided boxes that electrical cables are routed through in nuclear power plants, almost like a larger version of an electrical breaker box found in homes.

The toxic material was used to insulate the cables.

Through the early 1980s, asbestos was also used to insulate turbines, steam pipes, and boilers inside San Onofre and other nuclear power plants as well as in electrical and other kinds of power plants.

As such, workers were susceptible to exposure and to inhaling tiny asbestos fibers, which can become lodged in the lungs and eventually cause cancer.

When it’s handled properly, however, there shouldn’t be huge cause for concern.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” said Dave Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and former director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Asbestos has been found in nuclear plants in other places … (Asbestos) is something that causes the hair on people’s neck to go up. That’s because it has caused harm in the past.”

Indeed, power plant workers of several decades ago are among those most likely to develop diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer.

Many worked in the vicinity of asbestos-containing products each day and often breathed in the toxic dust. Some even brought it home on their clothes, contaminating their family members in the process.

In many instances, power plant workers have filed lawsuits against those responsible for their exposure and have often succeeded in receiving compensation for their injuries.