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Danger at Hawaii Geothermal Plant More Real Than Ever

Officials fear an explosion could occur should the lava reach the plant's wells
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 27, 2018 5:00 PM CDT
An aerial view of fissure 22 looking toward the south, as Kilauea Volcano continues its eruption cycle near Pahoa   (U.S. Geological Survey via AP)
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(Newser) – Lava from the Kilauea volcano reached a geothermal power plant on the Big Island on Sunday, approaching wells that have been capped to protect against the release of toxic gas should they mix with lava, per the AP. The lava breached the property overnight and was within 200 yards of the nearest well, said David Mace, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Asked about safety hazards, he replied: "I think it's safe to say authorities have been concerned about the flow of lava onto the plant property since the eruption started." A plant spokesman, Mike Kaleikini, told the news agency Hawaii News Now that the lava was as close as 130 feet from wells. He said there was no indication of the release of the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide, the greatest fear should lava hit the wells.

"As long as conditions are safe, we will have personnel on site. Primary concern is sulfur dioxide from the eruption and lava coming on site. We monitor for hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide on a continuous basis," Kaleikini said. Steve Brantley of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said the flow seemed to have halted Sunday morning after moving slowly into the proximity of the well overnight. Lava had previously crossed onto an older part of the property, according to officials. But it's now on 40 acres of the plant that are operational. Officials earlier this month carted away 50,000 gallons of potentially toxic gas away from the site, which lies on the southeast flank of the volcano, nestled between residential neighborhoods. They also capped the 11 wells at the property to try to prevent a breach. Lava-filled fissures have torn apart chunks of the southeastern side of the Big Island over the past three weeks as Kilauea has become more active. (Read more Hawaii stories.)

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