Large Solar Flares Among Threats To Power Grid
October 17, 2011 by David Morris
Two major threats have the ability to partially or completely destroy the power grid: electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
You might remember Saddam Hussein threatening to use chemical weapons against both the United States and Israel during the first and second Gulf wars.
You might also remember that we responded to the threat by promising to “respond with overwhelming force and extract a very high price should he be foolish enough to use chemical weapons on United States forces.”
Many people thought that this meant dropping a nuke on Iraq. While that was definitely a possibility, it’s much more likely that our response would have been for us to use an EMP caused by detonating a nuclear bomb 100 miles to 300 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Buildings wouldn’t fall down, Geiger counters wouldn’t go off and people wouldn’t die of radiation poisoning, but the EMP would completely destroy the electrical grid and most unshielded electronic items in Iraq. In essence, a wave of energy would emanate out from the blast in the upper atmosphere and cause power-line transformers and integrated circuits in electronic devices to burn out, or “fry.” The damage would be permanent in some cases and temporary in others.
An EMP attack is subject of several fictional accounts: the book One Second After, the TV series “Jericho,” an episode of the TV series “24,” etc.
China and Russia have the ability to attack the United States with an EMP, as do North Korea, Iran and any terrorist organization with deep pockets.
In its simplest form, an EMP attack could be done by placing one of the many small nukes missing from the former Soviet Union on a SCUD rocket and launching it 12 miles off the East Coast from a container ship. There’s even a Russian arms dealer who sells missile silos that look, from the outside, just like a shipping container that can go on cargo ships, trains or semis.
It probably wouldn’t get up to the optimal altitude and wouldn’t knock out the entire country, but it wouldn’t need to. Our economy is so fragile right now that any hiccup, let alone a major attack, would most likely bring down the whole credit default swap scam, as well as be the final blow to many of our country’s insolvent banks.
How long would it take to recover? Well, it depends on how you define recovery. One of the casualties of an EMP attack would be the transformers that step up and step down voltage along power transmission lines. The power grid as we know it may never recover if several large transformers in the same region failed simultaneously. The transformers used in high-voltage transmission weigh from 100 tons up to 300 tons for one particular transformer manufactured by Siemens. They take a long time to manufacture, they’re expensive, there’s global demand, and they’re very difficult to transport.
It’s somewhat easy for some people to dismiss EMPs. On the one hand, there’s a tendency to discount threats that are so huge that you don’t have any control over them. On the other hand, many people simply don’t appreciate how much some people hate the United States, our freedoms, our wealth and our support of Israel. They don’t know us, but they want to kill us. They want us to live the same miserable lives that they live rather than to have individual liberty.
We’ve had several recent events that make the threat of EMPs very difficult to ignore.
You see, besides nuclear blasts, EMPs can be caused when solar flares happen on the sun that are big enough to cause CMEs. These are a big deal, which is why I reference solar flares and their potential to wreak havoc on our way of life every few weeks over at my blog at SecretsOfUrbanSurvival.com.
Recently, we’ve had a series of harmless wake up calls reminding us that solar flares/CMEs do happen. The recent ones that hit the Earth were tiny; the biggest effects most people saw were an interruption of satellite TV and pretty Northern Lights.
If or when the sun has a large solar flare that causes a large CME to come our way, it could be like a series of hundreds of EMPs going off every few minutes for days at a time.
Has it happened? Yes. In 1859, we experienced a CME so strong that telegraph wires shorted out and fires started from coast to coast.
Whereas an EMP would damage only electronics over a region, a powerful CME would affect the entire planet.
Farfetched? Not really. Unlikely? Four hundred years of data say an increase in CMEs is very likely. Below is the chart of solar activity since 1610 from NASA. There’s a peak every 11 years or so. We were at the bottom of the current cycle in 2008 and are now on the upswing. The red arrow points to what some experts believe our next upswing will look like: fairly weak in comparison, but strong enough considering our dependence on electronics.
The solar flares could simply cause pretty Northern Lights and bad shortwave propagation. They could cause regional blackouts like what happened in Canada in 1989. They could knock out satellites. Or a major CME like the 1859 CME could knock out electronics and our electrical grid.
Our infrastructure is much more interdependent and fragile than it was in 1859. Most of the world wasn’t affected by telegraph lines going down, but most of the world will be affected by air conditioning, cars, refrigeration, heating systems, communication and banking simultaneously going down.
How do you prepare for such a scenario? It depends on where you are in your process of preparedness. One of the simple things that you can do is to make sure that your house has at least one solid ground. In most areas, this means driving a 1/2″ copper stake 10 feet into the ground, but it could mean burying/driving copper as far as 40 feet into the ground, continually watering your ground rods or periodically adding minerals to the soil near your ground rod.
If you have a metal shed, you can ground it. If you have a metal safe, you can ground it. You can also create mini poor-man’s Faraday cages out of aluminum foil or Mylar®.
It’s very important to note that these improvised methods may or may not work. The strength of a pulse will depend on several factors concerning the blast, the construction of your house, how much dirt/concrete/metal the pulse has to go through to reach your items, whether they’re plugged in and the random nature of a large-scale event.
What I mean by “random nature of a large-scale event” is to think about the effects of a forest fire going through a developed area. It’s not uncommon to have three houses of identical construction in close proximity where two burn down to a pile of ash on the slab and the third one have no damage whatsoever. On April 27, a multiple-vortex tornado just missed the Personal Liberty office. In other words, you just can’t discount or account for random outcomes in large scale events.
On aluminum foil, most Faraday cages are made of copper, sometimes simply copper mesh. Aluminum has 60 percent of the conductivity of copper, so it’s still a very good conductor. The electrical engineers I’ve talked with about this have had two major reasons why they think that aluminum foil makes a good field expedient Faraday cage.
1. The amount of shielding needed for an EMP blast depends on the size of the EMP, the efficiency of the EMP (whether it was purpose built to be an EMP or a “normal” nuclear weapon detonated at high altitude), your distance from the EMP and atmospheric conditions. In other words, aluminum foil probably wouldn’t work if a purpose built EMP went off directly overhead, but it might work great if you were 1,000 miles away from it, if it wasn’t a purpose built EMP, or if it was a small blast.
2. It’s a guess as to whether aluminum foil will work as a Faraday cage in an EMP attack. We are fortunate in that we haven’t experienced enough EMPs to have a large enough dataset to make definitive statements on what will work and what won’t work in the real world. That being said, aluminum foil doesn’t cost much compared to full-on Faraday cages and still gives people a lot of potential bang for the buck. It’s a case where everyone can keep aluminum foil and wire on hand, but most people have more pressing things to spend money on than certified Faraday enclosures.
With an EMP, it’s unlikely that the general public will have any warning of an attack. We’re getting better and better at identifying CMEs. That means we’ll have between 17 hours’ (as in 1859) and three to four days’ (as in August 2010) warning to unplug, shield and possibly even bury sensitive equipment.
Hold On A Second!
Before you go off and spend a bunch of time and money preparing for one specific potential event, make sure you have all of your fundamentals in order. What I mean is that instead of preparing specifically for an EMP/CME, you’re much better off taking steps that will help you prepare for all causes of breakdowns in civil order.
I’m talking about having a store of food on hand and a way to supply yourself and your family with water, shelter, fire, security and medical skills.
With a well-thought-out preparedness plan, you can be ready for disasters ranging from unexpected short-term unemployment to short-term natural disasters to catastrophic events like a collapse of the dollar to EMPs and CMEs, so focus on the fundamentals and you’ll be ready for whatever disaster happens.
Stay Safe & God Bless!