Flood Waters Breach Dam at North Carolina Coal Plant

In this photo released by Duke Energy, The Sutton 1971 coal ash basin is seen Sept. 21, 2018, near Wilmington, N.C. (Duke Energy via AP)

(CN) – Duke Energy said Friday that a dam containing a large lake at a Wilmington, North Carolina, power plant has been breached by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence, and it’s possible coal ash from an adjacent dump is flowing into the Cape Fear River.

Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan told the Associated Press Friday that floodwaters continue to overtop an earthen dike at the north side of Sutton Lake, a 1,100-acre reservoir at the L.V. Sutton Power Station.

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

After heavy rains last weekend, Duke Energy closed its 625-megawatt natural gas plant at the same location.

While the company said in a statement that it believes ash in the 1971 basin remains contained within a steel wall that is reinforced with cement and packed soil, it says the basin wall is also submerged and cenospheres are moving from this basin into the cooling lake and the Cape Fear River.

Cenospheres are a byproduct of coal combustion and are comprised of silica and alumina.

The plant’s other basin, which was built in 1984, was reportedly not affected.

Duke Energy said in the statement released Friday, there is almost no chance that water spilled from the cooling lake will affect water levels in the area.

“We take issue with the characterization that no coal ash spilled,” said Larissa Liebman, a staff attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance.

“Cenospheres are essentially a part of coal ash and the fact that they spilled is probably a sign that other hazards are leaking into the river,” she said.

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