NASA scientists have the rough outlines of a plan to turn a Yellowstone National Park "supervolcano" into a source of electric power.
According to NBC News, the scientists argue heat from the Yellowstone Caldera – a craterlike depression measuring 30 miles by 45 miles and filled with molten material – could be siphoned and cooled, allowing the conversion of geothermal energy into electricity.
"The primary objective…is to gradually defang Yellowstone as a threat to humanity," Brian Wilcox, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told NBC News.
He added the last supervolcano eruption happened about 74,000 years ago, and the most recent, 640,000 years ago — but there's no doubt it'll happen again.
"Even though it's unlikely to happen in anybody's given lifetime, it will eventually happen," Wilcox told NBC News. "One of these things is going to blow, and it's going to be devastating."
Wilcox and his colleagues believe they can lower the risk in Yellowstone by drilling into the hot rock near the huge crater's magma chamber, starting several miles outside the park.
Water would be pumped through the borehole into the hot rock and then return to the surface at a temperature of more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water could be used to drive turbines to generate electric power, and the then-cooled water pumped back underground to steal away more heat, according to NBC News.
As outlined by the NASA scientists, the project would cost about $3.46 billion, and would take thousands of years for all the heat to be fully extracted, NBC News reported. Throughout that time, as the risk of an eruption subsided, the scientists predict there'd be plenty of heat to generate electricity at competitive prices, NBC News reported.
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