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ASBESTOS EXPOSURES AT THE OYSTER CREEK NUCLEAR GENERATING STATION – FORKED RIVER, NEW JERSEY

With construction occurring throughout the mid-1960s, Forked River’s Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station went online in 1969. Sitting on over 1,000 acres next to the Barnegat Bay, power-generating activities at Oyster Creek draw over one billion gallons of water each day with its large water pumps at the edge of the bay. The plant was originally owned and operated by Jersey Central Power & Light. In 2003, it became the property of Exelon. Due to various changes in how nuclear plants are to be regulated, the Oyster Creek nuclear generating station is scheduled to be permanently shutdown in 2019.

The Oyster Creek nuclear plant was designed and engineered in the early-1960s by the Burns & Roe engineering firm. The Chicago Bridge & Iron Company completed construction of the nuclear facility between 1965 and 1969. With the assistance of hundreds of local independent contractors and subcontractors, numerous buildings, plants and structures were built. Additionally, hundreds of pieces of power-generating equipment, including a General Electric nuclear reactor, turbines and generators, were installed. This work, which took years to complete, exposed hundreds of individuals to vast amounts of asbestos dust.

Between the 1940s and 1980s, many of the products involved in the construction of power plants contained asbestos. Materials such as floor tiles, ceiling tiles, sheet rock, joint compound, drywall and caulk all contained asbestos. Other materials, including cement, cement pipe, air duct lining, electrical control boxes, and paint, contained various amounts of asbestos in finished products. During the late-1960s, the individuals who constructed Oyster Creek under the direction and supervision of Chicago Bridge & Iron regularly worked with and around these products. Tradesmen of all crafts applied asbestos to the walls, floors, pipes and ceilings of the plant.

Once construction of Oyster Creek’s buildings was completed, the power-generating equipment was assembled. Numerous pieces of machinery, including hundreds of pumps, valves, air compressors, wire and cable, turbines, generators, condensers, tanks and a nuclear reactor were installed. Because of the dangerously high temperatures much of this equipment reached, a large amount of asbestos insulation was used. Additionally, most of this equipment included a variation of asbestos gaskets, packing, rope and insulation. Miles of pipe, as designed by Burns & Roe, was insulated with fibrous asbestos insulation. All of this construction work exposed hundreds of contractors to large quantities of asbestos dust.

After construction was completed and the power-generating machinery was installed, the General Electric nuclear reactor was put online. With power being supplied to the grid, the main responsibility of Oyster Creek’s employees was to monitor the equipment, to ensure that power-generating operations were not interrupted. Because time “off the grid” meant lost profits, scheduled shutdowns for critical maintenance were planned years in advance. With this time, Jersey Central Power & Light was able to assemble crews of hundreds of independent contractors to disassemble and inspect the plant’s equipment.

These overhaul activities exposed Oyster Creek employees and independent contractors to vast amounts of asbestos dust. Part of the workers’ responsibilities during a shutdown was the inspection of every piece of machinery deemed critical to power-generating operations. For many, this meant cutting through heavy layers of asbestos insulation to get a product disassembled. After inspection, workers would scrape out worn gaskets and packing, and then replace these components with fresh asbestos products. Hundreds of pumps, valves and air compressors were overhauled before the plant could be put back online. During these turnarounds, hundreds of workers were exposed to dangerous, airborne fibers.

If you or a loved one worked at the Oyster Creek nuclear generating station and have developed an asbestos-related disease, please call today for a free consultation.

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