Lava Creeps Onto Geothermal Plant Site in Hawaii

Chris Jasurek
By Chris Jasurek
May 22, 2018US News
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Lava Creeps Onto Geothermal Plant Site in Hawaii
Lava from a Kilauea volcano fissure erupts on Hawaii's Big Island on May 20, 2018 in Kapoho, Hawaii. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Lava continues to flow from multiple fissures on the flanks of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, threatening a geothermal power plant.

More than 20 vents have opened on the slopes of Kilauea, spewing lava and toxic gases. The volcano has been erupting since early May, with an explosive eruption on May 17 shooting a plume of smoke and ash 30,000 feet into the air, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Another, smaller explosive eruption shook the mountain on May 21.   

The real danger comes from the slowly leaking lava and the attendant poisonous gases. Concentrations of toxic sulfur dioxide are dangerously high around the vents.

Lava is flowing into the sea in at least two locations. When the molten rock hits the water it creates poisonous, caustic “laze”—lava haze—a mixture of steam, hydrochloric acid gas, and micropellets of glass.

The lava flows have already forced the evacuation of several neighborhoods. According to RT, at least 44 homes have been destroyed by the lava so far.

An even greater danger is at hand as the 2,000-degree molten rock continues to ooze downhill.

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(Reuters screenshot)

Power Plant Presents Explosive Threat

Some lava streams are approaching the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) power plant, which supplies electricity to about one-quarter of Hawaii’s Big Island, RT reports.

On the morning of May 22, PGV workers struggled to shut down and cap the last on the plant’s 11 wells which tap superheated underground water to power electricity-generating turbines.

(USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
(USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)

If the lava hit the wells while they were open, toxic gas and boiling acid could be spread over enormous distances.

The plant has been offline since the first eruption on May 3.

Lava fountains from Fissure 20 in Kīlauea Volcano's lower East Rift Zone. (USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)
Lava fountains from Fissure 20 in Kīlauea Volcano’s lower East Rift Zone. (USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)

As of 6 p.m. on May 21, ten of the wells were completely secured, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense website.

“County, state, and federal partners have been collaborating closely to monitor the situation and work with PGV to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities,” said the latest bulletin.

“Ten of the eleven wells have been quenched. Efforts are ongoing to make sure the site is secure and the community is kept safe.”

Lava from a Kilauea volcano fissure erupts on Hawaii's Big Island on May 19, 2018 in Kapoho, Hawaii. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Lava from a Kilauea volcano fissure erupts on Hawaii’s Big Island on May 19, 2018, in Kapoho, Hawaii. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The site recommended that residents around the active vents be prepared to evacuate “with little notice.”    

 

 

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