back to article US power grid still fragile in the face of EMP threat: GAO

America is still under dire threat of an electromagnetic pulse sending it back to the dark ages, according to Chris Currie of the US Government Accountability Office. In testimony given to the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee's subcommittee on oversight and management efficiency, Currie reckons there's not …

  1. gregthecanuck
    Mushroom

    THIS is the biggest threat the US should be concerned with. One good solar blast and it's game over.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Or one good suborbital thermonuclear blast

      Frankly, it is no longer necessary to hit a city with a nuke. Or hit a target with a nuke.

      Blowing a few 100 Kt up at ~ 80 miles up is enough to knock out the grid in a 500miles+ radius. There is no defense against this either - it is outside the short range interceptor range and it can pretend to be a satellite as far as anyone else is concerned all the way until it needs to execute Boom().

  2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Somewhat surprising, given the extensive testing. In the early 1960ies there was an entire series of nuclear weapons tested in the upper atmosphere and even in space. Search for 'Rainbow Bombs' or the documentary 'Nukes in Space'.

  3. redpawn

    Essential Services

    Preparation for rare but devastating events is a hard sell when its not likely to happen on my watch and it is very expensive to prepare for.

    The power grid is just the start of our worries. Will we even be able to run our computerized combines and other food production infrastructure? Can our water and sewage infrastructure function after a good solar flair?

    I'm afraid our systems have become too complex to fall back to simpler modes of operation after EMP regardless of the source if strong enough to fry chips.

  4. energystar
    Mushroom

    Should it have gone...

    Full DC by now? Transmission Lines?

  5. MrDamage

    To paraphrase Oscar Wilde

    America is the only country to go from barbarism, to decadence, to barbarism, without going anywhere near civilisation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: To paraphrase Oscar Wilde

      "America is the only country to go from barbarism, to decadence, to barbarism, without going anywhere near civilisation."

      "I feel like trashing the US, so this thread is hereby hijacked! Eat shit, Muricans!!!"

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: To paraphrase Oscar Wilde

        "Eat shit, Muricans!!!""

        Most of them kinda do already. :/

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This nearly happened in 2012

    We were missed by a Carrington-class event by a mere six weeks in orbital terms.

    Had this been a direct hit America and most of Europe would now be living in Bronze Age levels of technology because most of the essential devices we rely on can't be made to work without reliable electricity. (ie sewage processing, irrigation, water handling, food production).

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: This nearly happened in 2012

      Had this (in 2012) been a direct hit America and most of Europe would now be living in Bronze Age levels of technology

      Really? Does a solar flare remove all knowledge of electricity from people's brains then? And stop unaffected countries from helping?

      I think you are overstating the case wildly, a Carrington-class event might lead to a few months of severe disruption, but we would soon start to recover.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: This nearly happened in 2012

        The problem is that we can fix pretty well anything in our technology, using other bits of our technology.

        A Carrington event would take out pretty much everything, leaving sod all to do the fixing.

        How do you fix stuff when you don't have the transport to bring the parts from the factory that can't make them? And what transport you do have is desperately trying to distribute food.

        Some bits take a long time - I seem to recall that the big transformers needed to get the grid running take many months to make, and they can't make more than a very few at a time.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: This nearly happened in 2012

        Really? Does a solar flare remove all knowledge of electricity from people's brains then?

        True, it does not. However, exercising that knowledge becomes a very interesting proposition when you cannot repair even the most primitive generator without bringing half of it from across the globe (because an MBA in the finances department has been penny pinching and enjoying a slave trader fetish).

        The countries to fare best in a Carrington-class event will be the countries under sanctions - Iran, Russia, Cuba, etc - they have no choice but to have a significant local manufacturing base. And China of course as it manufactures nearly anything. USA and Europe... Especially if it happens in mid-winter... That will not be a pretty sight.

      3. energystar
        Trollface

        Re: This nearly happened in 2012

        Yea, Russia and China are going to come and help you to be COMPETENT, again...

      4. C 2
        FAIL

        Re: This nearly happened in 2012

        Its not even close to wildly overstated.

        The power grid in the US has something like 5% redundancy, and the largest transformers have no backups or spares whatsoever. These are transformers that are not only built overseas, but they also have lead times of between a year an 18 months. Just a handful of these keep North America up and running.

        What are the odds of multiple utilities going bankrupt and not being there to pay for or install said monster transformer by the time it has been manufactured?

        From there it probably goes to shit a whole lot faster than 18 months anyways. Bronze age is probably optimistic.

  7. M7S
    Coat

    If the power went out in the US, would this be inspiration for more

    ...Revolutions?

    (Before you get agitated, a 2nd series, rather than a re-run of 1776)

  8. jake Silver badge

    Earth to Currie ...

    ... you can't legislate physics.

    EOF

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Earth to Currie ...

      Out of curiosity, how do my downvoters (who failed to actually reply intelligently) figure that you can, actually, legislate physics?

      Cnut would not be impressed.

  9. Nixinkome

    It looks like fossil fuels are a back-up. What [rhetorical question] intelligence level does an AI have to achieve to protect itself against EMP from whatever source?

    Shades of, " What do you gotta do to be VIP?".

    It's interesting that human interaction must factor price into 'efficiency' debates. Solar and wireless technology don't have a patch on a good ole flare.

  10. W4YBO

    Know any diabetics, dialysis patients or pacemaker wearers? Is your water pressure derived from pumps or gravity? Was your automobile built since the mid-seventies? How about the trucks that deliver groceries to your local market?

    An awful lot of really important stuff is going to quit working in this event. Think of your worst day as a geek, and multiply by ninety days. Be prepared to take care of yourself, your family, and your neighbors because the folks reading this will be rebuilding the stuff that falls apart.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Know any diabetics, dialysis patients or pacemaker wearers?

      I have a pacemaker fitted and don't give a shit about Carrington events (not so sure about nuke EMPs, I'd have to do the sums). The reason why is simple - Carrington events have most impact on long (100s or 1000s of miles) transmission lines, particularly those oriented east-west. The wires connected to my pacemaker are ~25cm long, are oriented vertically for 2/3rds of the day, and are surrounded by conductive saline.

      A mains shock has more chance of damaging my pacemaker than a solar flare but it would have to be across my chest rather than the more usual hand to earthed feet type shocks I've usually had. I don't go near Tesla coils though, which is a pain as it means missing the local Teslathons. :-(

    2. energystar
      Mushroom

      f_(k you

      Man... Truth is painful. [If surviving to the blast]... But real sub-human vultures are the near term immediate higher risk... So bad that is good scripting material.

      1. energystar
        Devil

        Re: f_(k you

        As an Iraqi refugee so graphically said it: Is like going 50 little 'Saddam Hussein's in your immediacy. All of them at their own f_(king business...

        1. energystar
          Windows

          Re: f_(k you

          On the wellbeing of the people inhabiting a Nation, You don't f_(k their Government if not having a replacement -and the monetizing schema to pay for costs- ready for deployment. Leaving for a moment long term military, diplomatic and international status quo strategies.

        2. energystar
          Angel

          First thing a Helpful Hegemonic Nation should send to a devastated one...

          Is a rapid deployment 'Kings of the Hills' Pest Remover Force...

        3. energystar
          Headmaster

          Re: f_(k you

          You know than more than one conflicting Hegemonic Nation are present. If those 'kings of the hills' stay, and predate.

  11. David Pollard

    This looks like asteroid envy

    If nuclear weapons are ever used in anger it's likely to be the end of the line for much of the human race whether or not there are measures to protect against EMP.

    Solar flares can induce significant currents in long wire loops, but the grid can be protected by disconnecting power lines in order to prevent transformers being saturated with low frequency currents. There are various plans for an orderly shut-down if necessary and we do have quite good advance notice of solar events these days.

    https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/flare-impacts.html

  12. MT Field
    Mushroom

    A lot of people worrying about something they don't really understand.

    The EMP from a extra-atmospheric nuke will mainly affect radio communications over admittedly a fairly wide area but only for a limited time (measured in minutes). Solar flares can also be disruptive but again the effects will be limited in scope and duration.

    Bring it on, I say. Hence the icon.

    1. energystar
      Alien

      Are You asking Us...

      To take off our aluminum foil hats?

    2. Alan_Peery

      You should read up on Startfish Prime

      It's the biggest, and happily the last, of the atmospheric EMP tests.

      Starfish Prime caused an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which was far larger than expected, so much larger that it drove much of the instrumentation off scale, causing great difficulty in getting accurate measurements. The Starfish Prime electromagnetic pulse also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii, about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point, knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and damaging a telephone company microwave link. The EMP damage to the microwave link shut down telephone calls from Kauai to the other Hawaiian islands.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starfish_Prime#Explosion

      1. MT Field

        Re: You should read up on Startfish Prime

        Yes interesting reading but still not back-to-the-stone-age stuff. Note that we are less reliant now on microwave telecoms links (preferring buried or sea-bed optical fibre).

        1. W4YBO

          Re: You should read up on Startfish Prime

          20 years before PCs.

        2. M7S

          Re: You should read up on Startfish Prime

          Although given that HMG/Openreach wants all the farmers/country folk to do their "paperwork"via satellite or fixed wireless rather than fibre, this could damage our rural industries and food production should such an event take place

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    A bit of history is in order.

    It is obvious few understand Nikola Tesla's principles. Everyone is screwed!

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