National

Villagers want geothermal
power plant suspended

Angered by explosions Thursday, worried residents in Pangalengan in South Bandung, West Java, returned to the nearby Wayang Windu geothermal field Friday to demand work there be suspended.

Three explosions from the exploration field Thursday shocked residents in Margamukti village in Pangalengan district, causing some to faint.

The angry villagers shortly gathered at the geothermal plant operated by independent energy company Star Energy and threw rocks and bottles at the company office windows.

During Friday's rally around 1,000 residents demanded the exploration project be temporarily closed.

The villagers also wanted the company to suspend the planned construction of its third and fourth geothermal power-plant units expected to begin Nov. 3, 2009.

The residents agreed the company could resume the explora-tion project after it ensured their safety.

They reported they were traumatized by the strong blasts at the site, which could be heard up to 3 kilometers away.

The protesters, arriving by motorcycles, demanded the company's subsidiary Magma Nusantara, which has been operating at the site since 1994, stop running.

"We often hear rumbling sounds that scare us, not to mention *Thursday's* explosions," said Kertamanah villager, Asep Dedi, who joined the rally.

"They sounded like bombs and had the vibrations of an earthquake."

Local residents deem the geothermal exploration work around them has not brought significant benefits because some of the local residents are only employed as low-ranking workers.

The neighborhood unit chief of Margamukti, Gunawan Sondari, said residents often became anxious when they heard rumblings from the geothermal site.

"We urge the company to temporarily stop production until they can ensure our safety," Gunawan said. "We want them to promise the blasts will not occur again."

The blasts, followed by tremors, happened at the Wayang Windu II geothermal power plant, which began operating around three months ago and was founded by then energy and mineral resources minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro.

Star Energy spokesman Asrul Saleh Amru said a safety valve at the second unit power plant had ruptured and triggered the first explosion at 8:30 a.m local time Thursday.

The unit broke down due to excessive pressure at the Unit II plant, which was operating at its full capacity, while Unit I was idle and undergoing routine maintenance.

Asrul attempted to explain this to the protesting residents Friday but he was allegedly met with hostility because he was unable to decide whether the company could meet the residents' demand to cease operation.

The residents also tried to force their way into the geothermal site but were obstructed by scores of police.

"We are unable to decide on a course of action yet," said company employee Ahmad Nauval.

"Decisions are in the hands of our management in Jakarta."

The residents handed over a letter demanding the company ensure their safety before they left.

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