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A U.S. Army helicopter flies over homes and businesses flooded by heavy rains from Hurricane Florence. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence have breached a 1,100-acre cooling lake dam at the L.V. Sutton Power Station in North Carolina, about 8 miles northwest of Wilmington, Duke Energy told Axios. The power plant, which now runs on natural gas, has shut down in response to the flooding.

Why it matters: Coal ash contains hazardous heavy metals that are harmful to human health, such as arsenic and mercury. If these pollutants enter water supplies, they pose a serious hazard to public health.

The details: Duke Energy also had an incident at this plant earlier this week, when the company reported that Sutton Lake had not been compromised despite an adjacent coal ash landfill losing enough waste to fill about 200 dump trucks.

  • However, the ongoing spill is a new, more significant breach associated with the same facility, and coal ash may now be flowing into the Cape Fear River from two areas.
  • A recent Duke statement indicates that floodwaters caused several breaches in a dam on the south end of Sutton Lake, which is flowing directly into the Cape Fear River. The lake is also being overtopped from the north, and waters are flowing into other parts of the plant.
A Duke Energy photo showing the Sutton cooling lake waters exiting a breach at the south end back to the Cape Fear River on September 21, 2018. Photo: Duke Energy.
  • The company said cenospheres, which are light, hollow beads that are byproducts of coal combustion, are moving into the river. However, the company believes that more hazardous coal ash in two basins at the site have not been compromised.
"Site personnel are supplementing on-site supplies with large stone and other materials, engineering experts are moving to the site and personnel continue to develop and activate repair plans."
— Duke Energy statement
  • But Pete Harrison, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, told Axios that coal ash was visible on the river as of Friday afternoon.
  • "You mostly see these swirling plumes of white coal ash, and that extends for miles downstream," he said by phone from a boat on the Cape Fear River, just downstream from the plant.
"Very clearly, coal ash is entering the Cape Fear River now and has been all afternoon."
— Pete Harrison, Earthjustice staff attorney
  • The cenospheres that Duke Energy says are not hazardous can contain more dangerous coal ash materials attached to them, Harrison said, disputing Duke Energy's portrayal.
  • "The most visible stuff is going to be the cenospheres," he said, "but it appears that there are suspended particles in the water that aren't afloat."

The cause: The Cape Fear River is still rising and is expected to crest on Saturday after record rains inundated the state from the slow-moving hurricane. The state set a record for the most rain ever recorded during any tropical storm or hurricane, beating the previous record by nearly 1 foot. The river may not drop below levels that breached parts of the power station until Tuesday, Harrison said.

Go deeper: Florence's floods claim more lives, as pollution concerns mount.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”