Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power & Causes Catastrophic Flooding in Puerto Rico
September 21, 2017
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As reported by Democracy Now! in its morning news headlines:

Millions of people are without power in Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria made landfall Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century. Maria brought record rainfall and catastrophic flooding to Puerto Rico. The National Weather Service warned early this morning of flash flooding risks across the entire island. Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Roselló says at least one person has died on Puerto Rico and that the death toll may rise when communication with the southeastern part of the island is re-established. Meanwhile, the death toll on the island nation of Dominica has risen to 14 people. Maria caused widespread devastation there when it made landfall as a Category 5 storm. The storm also destroyed parts of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and killed two people on the French island of Guadeloupe. Early this morning, Maria passed just north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, lashing the island with winds up to 115 miles an hour. It’s now gathering strength as it barrels toward Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas.

DN! also mentioned at the very top of the hour that the U.S. military's live fire testing range of Vieques, Puerto Rico had suffered a direct hit from the hurricane, begging the question about environmental contamination, as from large quantities of depleted uranium (DU) test fired there over many years.

In addition, a research reactor is located in extreme western Puerto Rico, in Rincon, on a small peninsula of land jutting out into the ocean. It is called BONUS, short for Boiling Nuclear Superheater Reactor Facility. See the Wikipedia entry for BONUS, here.

If communications with parts of the island have not yet been re-established, it raises the concern about the status of that research reactor. Was there radioactive contamination on that site, that has now been washed "away" into the environment, to harm people downstream and downwind? Is there any high-level radioactive waste stored on-site, still in need of constant cooling, lest it heat up to dangerous temperatures, risking an out of control situation with severe radiological risks? Given the nuclear industry's norm for lack of transparency, these questions remain, and are important to ask and seek answers to.

DN! and other news outlets have pointed out that this hurricane is the worst to hit Puerto Rico in many decades, or even a century. That was before hazards like atomic reactors, and DU, even existed. Anti-nuke icon Helen Caldicott, Beyond Nuclear's founding president, has similarly pointed out that had atomic reactors dotted the map of Europe like they do now, at the time of World War II, the continent would now be uninhabitable. Much of Europe was rubblized in WWII.

Whether due to acts of war, natural disasters, or any other cause, a wrecked atomic reactor, or its on-site high-level radioactive waste storage facilities, would spell ecological catastrophe, due to large amounts of hazardous ionizing radioactivity escaping into the living environment.

Update on September 22, 2017 by Registered Commenteradmin

As reported by the L.A. Times, in an article entitled "Failing Dam Triggers Evacuations":

The National Weather Service said the Guajataca Dam was failing Friday afternoon.

“All Areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW,” the weather service said on social media. “Their lives are in DANGER! Please SHARE!”

As the map in the article shows, the failing dam is in the same quadrant of Puerto Rico as the research reactor.

(The Washington Post has also reported on this story.)

Learn more about the Guajataca Lake (with info. about the dam), and the Guajataca River downstream, at the links provided to Wikipedia entries. 

This crisis brings to mind the Fukushima waiting to happen in South Carolina, as revealed by NRC whistle-blowers. The three reactor Oconee nuclear power plant is immediately downstream of a major dam. If the dam fails, those three reactors would be under more than 15 feet deep water, a similar depth that doomed Fukushima Daiichi, Japan when the tsunami struck.

Ironicially enough, Hurricane Maria is predicted to travel north, up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. It is too early to tell where it might score a direct hit -- but Oconee is an example of an already high-risk situation, that does not need a major hurricane added on top! 

Similarly, the risk of dam breaks threatened "Port" Calhoun, Nebraska in the summer of 2011. The Fort Calhoun atomic reactor had already suffered historic flooding on the Missouri River, that came precariously close to plunging the reactor into a dangerous situation. But had one of several upstream dams failed (and one was under particular strain), it could have doomed Fort Calhoun to radioactive catastrophe downstream. The operators had the sense to shut the reactor in April of 2011, which gave the reactor some months of cold shutdown to stabilize. But nonetheless, the high-level radioactive waste storage pool, as well as irradiated nuclear fuel dry casks, remained at risk of such an "inland tsunami," as Fairewinds Energy Education's Chief Engineer, Arnie Gundersen, dubbed it at the time. However, the Cooper atomic reactor -- a Fukushima twin design -- a bit further downstream the Missouri than Fort Calhoun, took the unwise risk of continuing to operate throughout the historic floods, at 100% power levels. 

Another dam/nuclear power plant combination of concern is at North Anna, VA. As with many dams across the U.S., its structural integrity gets low to failing grades. It holds back the water of North Anna, an artificial lake that serves as North Anna's twin reactors' "ultimate heat sink" for keeping the reactors cool. In addition to such threats as deluges, the earthern dam at North Anna is also at risk of earthquakes. In August 2011, a strong earthquake epicentered just 11 miles from North Anna tested the earthen dam. The North Anna site itself is crossed by earthquake faultlines, something not only the nuclear utility itself, but also the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission staff, knew during construction in the 1970s, but kept secret. 

Most recently, during Hurricane Harvey in Texas, there was great concern about the structural integrity of South Texas Project nuclear power plant's ultimate heat sink as well -- a cooling lake, and the retaining wall holding it -- for fear of overtopping, or breach, due to the historic rainfall deluge.

Update on September 23, 2017 by Registered Commenteradmin

A Sept. 22nd Washington Post article reports:

News was particularly scarce from the southern and central parts of the island, as well the tiny island of Vieques to the east.

Article originally appeared on Beyond Nuclear (http://www.beyondnuclear.org/).
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