15 Aug 2011

Smart Grids may make U.S. more vulnerable to electromagnetic pulses from solar flares or a terrorist attack

Written by Jim Pierobon

While the U.S. Congress, President Obama and the Tea Party wrangle over debt ceilings and deficit spending, a far more potent threat looms as a growing number of intelligence experts warn of how a massive solar flare or a nuclear missile detonated above the United States could kill wipe out the power grid, disable consumer electronics and cripple communications and banking networks. Society would cease to function. Hundreds of millions of people would die if they could not find some way to survive in an agrarian, 1800-style, existence.

“It’s not if, but when this will happen,” asserted Heritage Foundation scholar James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., in kicking off a mind-numbing seminar Monday in Washington, DC.

Carafano was joined in warning about an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack by U.S. Rep. Roscoe Barlett, R-MD, one of three scientists in the current, 112th Congress and  Chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee; Peter V.  Pry, Ph.D., a former CIA analyst and member of the EMP Commission; Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy in the Reagan Administration; and Drew Miller, Ph.D., a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and author of Rohan Nation: Reinventing America After the 2020 Collapse.

This video war game includes electromagnetic pulse weapons as one of its instruments of terror. Credit: Eidos Interactive

If you’re not aware of this threat or have never seen or heard these individuals speak about the EMP threat, you’re not alone. You might be surprised to learn that teenagers on up to many adults in their 20’s and 30’s are very much aware EMP as a weapon, if only because it is tool in popular video war games such as Deus Ex (image at right).

One objective of their gathering on what was the 8th anniversary of the August 14-15, 2003 Northeast U.S. blackout — the nation’s largest-ever — was to build support under Rep. Bartlett’s leadership of the legislation that would take a stab at preparing Americans for an EMP attack by “hardening” the nation’s electric power infrastructure against a terrorist attack or solar flare.

Called “The Shield Act,” the legislation has earned support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as the bare minimum the U.S. should do. But it has been dismissed in the Democratic-controlled Senate as too costly to deal with, at least for now.

“We’re looking at this train hurdling down the track” at us, said Gaffney, who asserted he has “never seen so outrageous a failure” to prepare to a widely recognized threat of such magnitude. “Nine out of 10 of us will be dead within a year of an EMP attack…What higher priority is there than ensuring the survival of our population?”

As for efforts to develop and deploy a “Smart Grid” by utilities in the U.S.: “Nothing could be stupider” than to build a Smart Grid that isn’t smart enough to deal with this problem, Gaffney implored.

Although a major solar flare, aka a “Carrington event” (named for the British scientist who recognized in 1859 the destructive potential of a a solar flare), could occur at any time, the scientific probability of its occurrence, known as a”Solar Maximum,” grows closer. That ‘window’ opens December 2012 and carries on through the end of 2013 when the sun’s magnetic field lines are the most distorted due to the magnetic field on the solar equator rotating at a slightly faster pace than at the solar poles.

A repeat of it in modern times would be a “space weather Katrina,” according to the Academy of Sciences report. It estimates a severe solar storm could cause $1 trillion to $2 trillion in losses the first year, and take four to 10 years to fully recover from.

These experts agreed that 60 cents added on to the monthly utility bills of all Americans would fund steps to start building much-needed defensive mechanisms. They also concurred that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should be authorized to execute on its own the necessary defenses.

One very practical states and utilities could take quickly is to protect the 300+ electric transformers scattered throughout the U.S. Thick metal sheds are widely viewed to provide a robust shield against an EMP, no matter the source. In addition, they could be equipped with “surge arrestors” which have the double benefit of helping guard against a cyber attack, according to Pry.

This image from NASA shows a solar flare Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011, the largest in 5 years. Are more coming during the "Solar Max" by 2013?

Pry said this problem has emerged from the “classified closet” at the U.S. intelligence agencies. Yet it is too” esoteric” and too expensive to for politicians to fix.

According to at least one news report, radiation from a solar flare August 9, 2011 briefly interfered with shortwave radio signals, an easily affected high-frequency wave (photo).

Rep. Bartlett said Russia and China already are “hardened” against an EMP. And North Korea and Iran have openly touted their willingness to deploy a nuclear device to unleash an EMP on America. In the eyes of some experts, this makes the U.S. either a sitting duck or embarrassingly vulnerable.

Said Pry: “We know how to fix the problem. There is no excuse for society not to be prepared.”

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