Will the U.S. Senate's incompetence and self-absorption destroy America?

“The Solar ‘Katrina’ Storm That Could Take Our Power Grid Out For Years” says America’s power grid could quickly be destroyed by giant EMP (electromagnetic pulses) from our sun, like those that struck the Earth in 1859 and 1921:

[John] Kappenman has accumulated a vast and compelling body of evidence indicating that sooner or later a major blast of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) from the Sun, a space weather Katrina, will knock out the electrical power grid and bring society to its knees.

“Historically large storms have a potential to cause power grid blackouts and transformer damage of unprecedented proportions. An event that could incapacitate the network for a long time could be one of the largest natural disasters we could face,” he declares. A bluff, friendly man, half science nerd, half overgrown farm boy, Kappenman insists that solar EMP blasts the size of those that occurred in 1859 (before society was electrified) and 1921 (before the power grid had developed to the point where it played any significant role) would today result in large-scale blackouts lasting for months or years….

Chaos could ensue:

“It’s the social breakdown… During Hurricane Andrew, which only affected several counties in Florida, the worst hit areas, without any electricity or anything, the National Guard, all they could do was leave jugs of fresh water at intersections and hope people would come take them… In the case of space weather the impact areas would cover major portions of the US at the same time, Oil and water pumping would cease, natural gas, too. There would be no ability to refuel a vehicle… rail transport, no ability to supply meaningful support from neighboring unaffected regions, because those regions would be extremely remote. No one keeps fuel at their factories any more, just-in-time manufacturing took care of that. You can’t just restart a nuclear power plant. For one thing, you need the operators to show up.”

Transformers are the most vulnerable component of our power system:

According to Kappenman’s research, a repeat of the geomagnetic storm that occurred in 1859 or 1921 would see the copper windings and leads of the 350 or so of the highest voltage transformers in the United States melt and burn out. These transformers connect nearly one third of the entire US power grid infrastructure, damage levels of unimaginable proportions from any other threat. Transformers weigh over 100 tons apiece and usually cannot be repaired in the field, and because of their size they cannot be flown in from overseas factories where they are now made. In fact, most transformers damaged by space weather incidents cannot be repaired at all, and need to replaced with new units. Currently, the worldwide waiting list for transformers is about three years, and about half of those made fail either in test or prematurely while in service.

We know how to protect transformers:

the grid can be protected from solar EMP devastation by outfitting it with surge suppressors, much like the ones that protect our computers and plasma televisions at home. In a nutshell, solar EMP blasts hit the Earth and discharge massive electrical currents into the planet’s surface, some of which current surges back up and into the grid. Surge suppressors placed between the surface and the transformer would protect the transformer from the space weather-induced electrical currents coming up from the ground.

Each surge suppressor would be about the size of a washing machine, and would cost $40,000-$50,000 apiece; with some 5,000 transformers in the North American grid, that works out to $250 million or so, according to Kappenman’s reckoning. Let’s say this estimate is overly optimistic and that the inevitable cost overruns occur. Even if the final price tag for protecting the power grid from space weather attacks ends up being more in the $500 million range, that’s less than 0.3% of what it cost to bail out AIG for gambling on toxic mortgages, or 1.0% of what Bernie Madoff is said to have bilked from his investors. Given that electrical industry revenues in the United States totaled approximately $368.5 billion in 2008, according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, a one-time space weather security surcharge of less than 0.2% should amply fund the surge suppressor project. With around 115 million households in the United States, this surcharge would work out to less than $5 per.

But the power industry opposes this, apparently because it doesn’t want to be bothered. And, although “the GRID bill, HR-5026, passed UNANIMOUSLY by the U.S. House of Representatives this June,” the U.S. Senate is being its normal insane self, apparently oblivious to the danger.

Posted by James on Monday, July 19, 2010