Hawaii’s Big Island Evacuation On Alert As Kilauea Lava Eruption Hits Geothermal Power Plant
The lava flow entered the 800-acre property of the Puna Geothermal Venture Plant on Monday and had stalled at a swale about 300 yards from the nearest underground well. On Tuesday, the lava was advancing.
If lava breaches wells, authorities fear it could release hydrogen sulfide, a toxic and flammable gas. Most of the wells have been capped with thick steel plates.
Thomas Travis, an administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, has warned that the intense heat could diminish the strength of the metal.
The plant has been shut down, and tens of thousands of gallons of flammable gas stored at the site have been removed.
County, state and federal authorities are monitoring the flow and working with PGV “to ensure the safety of the surrounding communities,” the county civil defense agency said in a statement, adding that nearby residents should be prepared to leave the area with little notice because of gas or lava inundation.
PGV is a geothermal energy conversion plant bringing steam and hot liquid up through underground wells. The liquid, or brine, is not used for electricity, but the steam is directed to a turbine generator that produces electricity. Even the exhaust steam from the turbine is used to heat fluid to drive a second turbine, generating more power.
The electricity generated by PGV is sold to Hawaii Electric Light.
Authorities also are contending with another threat as molten rock from Kilauea finds its way to the ocean — laze. Laze forms when 2,000-degree lava hits the cooler sea water. A hydrochloric acid steam cloud billows into the air, along with fine particles of glass.
The acid in the plume is about as corrosive as diluted battery acid, scientists said. Laze can cause irritations of the skin, eyes and lungs, and those suffering from asthma or emphysema may be particularly vulnerable.