Published: Mon, September 24, 2018
Science | By

Duke Shuts Down Wilmington Plant Surrounded By Flood Waters

Duke Shuts Down Wilmington Plant Surrounded By Flood Waters

In addition, the company continues to monitor water levels in the Cape Fear River, which flows near Sutton Lake, a cooling pond built by the company to support plant operations.

The company said the dam separating the Cape Fear River from man-made Sutton Lake, which holds water used to cool discharges from the power plant, suffered one large breach and several smaller ones.

Floodwaters had overtopped a steel retaining wall containing one of three large coal ash dumps lining the lakeshore, the company told the AP, adding that it can not rule out that ash might be escaping and flowing into the Cape Fear river. Cenospheres are lightweight, hollow beads comprised of alumina and silica that are a byproduct of coal combustion.

The state has been closely monitoring conditions at the facility.

Cenospheres are moving from the 1971 ash basin to the cooling lake and into the Cape Fear River.

The water caused breaches in the dam on the south end of the lake, which is flowing back into the river.

The Associated Press had earlier reported on the dam breach.

"River flooding has also impacted one of two inactive ash basins at the facility", the statement said. Duke "can't rule out" that ash might have spilled into the river.

The ash left over from coal burned to generate electricity contains an array of chemicals, including mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic heavy metals. The incident likely caused coal ash to run off into Sutton Lake, a Duke spokesperson told the AP.

The Sutton site in Wilmington was home to a coal-fired power plant until 2013, when Duke replaced it with a natural gas power station. "What we don't know at this point is if any coal ash has filtered into the Cape Fear River".

"We have not been able to get our feet on the ground to get the water quality sampling" due to flooding in the area, Michael Regan, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said during North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper's Hurricane Florence briefing on Friday. "We plan to conduct flyovers".

A road leading to a public dock on the reservoir, which is popular for fishing and boating, was blocked off on Friday by Duke Energy.

Duke denied a request for an Associated Press reporter to cross the barricade, saying the lake situation "continues to change" and is "not safe".

She said the company has been in contact with local emergency officials but high water levels meant "if the berm were to break, there would be very minimal impact down river".

Charlotte-based Duke Energy also said Friday that the flooding forced it to shut down its 625-megawatt natural gas power plant at the L.V. Sutton plant in Wilmington. Duke said that power plant was shut down overnight and all employees safely evacuated. Last weekend, coal ash spilled from a landfill under construction onto nearby land.

Duke's handling of its ash waste has faced intense scrutiny since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. The utility company paid $102 million in fines and restitution and pleaded guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations as a result. As the Cape Fear River swelled in the wake of Hurricane Florence, Duke installed a steel barrier at the coal ash pond to block the waste from flowing out.

Staff from the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance visited the flooded dumps at the H.F. Lee Power Plant by boat Wednesday, took photographs and collected samples of gray sludge washing into the floodwaters. The group said the samples would be analyzed by a private lab to determine whether the gray muck contained coal ash. The state has been looking into levels of a chemical used to make non-stick products in the water after it was released into the river past year, according to The News and Observer.

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