Workers at the Puna Geothermal Venture plant on the main island of Hawai’i are rushing to shut down and seal off the plant before lava flow from the Mount Kilauea eruption causes the uncontrollable release of toxic gases from the plant.
The plant, which provides 25% of the Big Island’s energy, is increasingly threatened by the ongoing lava flow stemming from the Mount Kilauea eruption which began May 16.
While the plant does provide renewable geothermal energy, its existence has caused controversy ever since its opening in 1989, as many native Hawaiians claimed that it was being built on sacred land.
Since then, concerns have emerged surrounding the plant’s effects on the health of local residents as well as on the local environment.
At this point, the lava flow has reached the Pacific ocean, resulting in the creation of huge amounts of sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, endangering the entire population living south of the lava flow.
The eruption has destroyed at least 44 homes and roughly 2,000 people have been evacuated.
The plant is surrounded by 11 “wells” that accumulate volcanic steam that is then converted into energy.
If the lava reaches these wells and interacts with the volcanic steam, it will trigger the release of hydrogen sulfide, a highly toxic, flammable gas that can cause death even after just a few breaths.
Employees at the plant have been working tirelessly to plug the wells by pouring vast amounts of water into the wells to overwhelm the steam, effectively neutralizing the well and allowing it to be capped.
Metal caps are stored on the islands of Kona and Honolulu and have been delivered to the Big Island for installation.
The lava flow is currently 200-300 meters from the wells.