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Hawaii volcanic eruption threatens geothermal power plant

23 May 2018

Lava flows from the volcano Kilauea on Hawaii’s Big Island, which started erupting on May 3, are now threatening a geothermal power plant. On May 23, officials said they were closely monitoring the situation at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), which supplies a quarter of the island’s electricity.

Lava flow on May 21 - Image: USGS
Lava flow on May 21 - Image: USGS

Officials with the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said 10 of the 11 wells on the site of the plant, which provide superheated water to the facility, have been quenched. This involves cooling them with water, and then blocking them with mud and metal caps to prevent lava coming through.

Hawaii Electric Light, the utility provider that distributes the energy from the plant, said it was developing contingency plans to restore electricity to local communities following the closure of the geothermal plant soon after the eruption.

PGV uses the flammable gas pentane as part of the geothermal heat recovery process, and almost 200,000 litres of the gas have been removed from the plant to reduce the chance of an explosion.

The number of fissures that have appeared on the side of Kilauea is now at least 22 and lava is oozing from at least four of them. Nearly 50 structures have been overwhelmed since the start of the eruption.

Officials say they will continue to closely monitor the situation and impose further evacuations if toxic gas emissions from the lava rise to dangerous levels.

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