When the world’s first full-scale atomic electric power plant devoted exclusively to peacetime uses appeared in December 1957 on a plot of land just 25 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, there was a lot of trepidation.
The word “nuclear” naturally instilled fear in the hearts of most American citizens, particularly those who had lived through World War II, and the thought of something nuclear in one’s own backyard had families running for the hills…and for what they considered to be safer places to raise their families.
Immediate concern was generated due to the fact that the only suitable nuclear reactor available at the time when Shippingport was built was one meant to be used by the Navy in a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. (The project had been suspended.) It contained 93 percent enriched uranium, nearly 20 times more than the amount found in later commercial power reactors.
This knowledge made it a scary time for many as they watched the reactor being constructed over the 3 years it took to complete it, beginning in 1954 until its opening.
Yet, others welcomed the Shippingport Atomic Power Station with open arms, glancing at the future of cleaner energy and looking forward to an onslaught of jobs that would become available because of the opening of this massive plant. And from the day that the station first synchronized its power with the distribution grid of Dusquesne Light Company until the station ceased operations in 1982, thousands of locals held jobs there.
The Shippingport Atomic Power Station employed many different kinds of workers during its operations, including:
• Nuclear engineers
• Chemical engineers
• Electrical technicians
• Reactor operators
• Radiation protection technicians
• Pipe fitters
• Iron workers
• And many other general tradespeople
Aside from the concern about radiation leakage and other incidents that can occur in nuclear power stations, workers had to contend with asbestos exposure. However, they didn’t realize, at the time, that being exposed to asbestos was a problem. Most workers at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station merely viewed it as a common material they often handled, used mostly for insulation purposes.
Good insulation is a must at a power plant of any sort and because asbestos was the cheapest such material available, it was used in abundance.
Evenutally, Shippingport Atomic Power Station employees who worked with asbestos materials started to get sick. It didn’t happen in 2 years, or 5 years, or even 10 years. In most cases, signs of asbestos-related illnesses didn’t surface for 20 years or more. Many would first be diagnosed with asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos exposure.
Others at Shippingport and other power stations would eventually be diagnosed with something much more ominous – mesothelioma cancer. For those unlucky individuals, a death sentence was a given. Many wouldn’t last more than a few months after diagnosis.
Throughout the Pittsburgh area, many workers became victims of mesothelioma due to work at power plants and stations – atomic, coal-fired, and electrical. Most were caught unaware and had no idea that asbestos would eventually make them sick. Many died feeling bitter and resentful, sure they could have avoided this fate if employers had heeded warnings about the dangers of asbestos.
For some afflicted with mesothelioma, it’s not too late to seek compensation for the suffering caused at the hands of negligent management. A Pittsburgh-area attorney experienced in mesothelioma cases can review your case to determine whether or not you are eligible to file suit for your injuries.