While the tragic events caused by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria continue to be in the news cycle, as they should, we are unnecessarily reminded that we here on this Island, seven miles out to sea, are also vulnerable. Jose, as a tropical storm, has just paid us a prolonged and unwelcome visit for close to a week, but hasn’t done much physical damage. No reliable ferry service for days, however, is quite unusual and inconvenient. Nothing with the severity — category 3, 4, or 5 — that has raked the Caribbean, Texas and Louisiana has ever hit the Island in recorded history, and how we would fare, for instance, if 50 inches of rain were to fall in less than a week, as in Texas, or in a day in Puerto Rico, as Harvey and Maria caused, is mostly pure speculation.

Such severe rainfall is more than our annual average, and such a supposed millennial occurrence is beyond the sensibilities and planning capabilities of most, if not all, communities. Also the damaging force of wind between hurricane categories 1 and 5 is not linear. At 160 miles per hour, a category 5 hurricane carries ten times the punch of a category 1 hurricane at 75 miles per hour.

Add three major earthquakes magnitudes 8.1, 7.1 and 6.1 in Mexico, one on top of the other, and ongoing wildfires in our northwest and one could begin to believe the end is near. Although we did survive last Saturday’s predictions of planetary doom pretty well, despite the president’s attacks on athletes.

Hurricanes and blizzards are our annual seasonal weather hazards. Earthquakes aren’t seasonal, although our earthquake hazard in Massachusetts is greater than most people realize. Our building code reflects that awareness. The public, on the other hand, is mostly aware of these natural hazards in a generic sense, and we make some, although often not nearly enough, preparation against them. We don’t, however, live in constant quivering fear as there is living history, if not memory, to tell us that they are generally rare, short-lived, if intense, but survivable events. Or at least they have been.

But our natural hazards are nothing like what Mexico City or the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico area faces. The populations of Caribbean islands are also used to hurricanes, and in some instances volcanic eruptions, but the severity of what has just occurred there is devastatingly unprecedented. Whether these islands remain habitable remains to be seen, especially with predictions of long-term, more-of-the-same likely to be accurate. Mexico City has also been there before, has adjusted, but obviously remains vulnerable constantly. It, however, isn’t likely to be abandoned. Some of those islands, however, may be another matter. But getting back to this Island. What about an ever-present 24/7 manmade hazard that we do live with, from which we have little protection, and whose devastating impacts would essentially be permanent, and worse than the wind and water damage in the Caribbean. Also possibly fatal for large segments of the population, not unlike a major earthquake.

No, I don’t mean tick borne infections. It’s a hazard that many people would prefer not to think about, and which exceeds the potential damage from almost any extreme weather event or major earthquake. What is it? A Fukushima-like accident at Entergy’s old Pilgrim nuclear power plant 38 miles upwind of us in not-so-far-away Plymouth. A major release of radiation from it akin to Chernobyl or Fukushima would make downwind areas, like this Island (or in the case of Entergy’s old Indian Point nuclear plants on the Hudson the island of Manhattan) uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, i.e., several centuries.

I realize that some readers may be put off by that foreboding description of such a possible catastrophe, and that’s unfortunate. The very real hazards posed by our aged nuclear power plants, like Pilgrim, have been oft repeated — the cry of wolf can desensitize us — and thus has become something akin to background noise, and thereby easily dismissed or ignored. Those who are still reading are quite likely already on board understanding that this very real hazard is not a matter of idle speculation or political opinion. It should be a serious concern for all of us.

Pilgrim is supposed to close in less than two years. The unending reports of dangerous maintenance issues, equipment failure, staffing levels and morale, and spineless inaction by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which protects the fiscal interests of the nuclear industry rather than public safety, contribute to a critical mass of reasons to close the plant now, not in June 2019. Adding to those issues are the underlying well documented concerns about its design, its age, its location on the coast, and its woeful operating history going back decades.

Public officials and citizens’ groups on the Cape, Islands, and area around the station have repeatedly called for it to be shut down now. That is with the exception of Charlie Baker, our governor, who thinks the NRC is doing just fine. So here we sit with a 24/7 manmade hazard that isn’t seasonal, but more dangerous than a category 5 hurricane or an unpredictable 8.1 earthquake. One we could prevent. What will it take?

There are those who will say that nothing bad has happened in the 45-year history of Pilgrim, so why worry now? But I am always reminded of the words of Arnie Gundersen, a very experienced nuclear engineer turned nuclear safety advocate and critic of the NRC: “You can have forty good years, but one very bad day” like Fukushima. That one very bad day, however, can last for centuries.

Richard Knabel lives in West Tisbury.