English Comp. II
6 February 2019
The Electrical Elephant in the Room
There is an unprecedented threat to our city, country, and continent that most people do not know about and for those of us that do, why have we not stirred up attention for solving this problem? How can we solve that problem with $5000? It is more dangerous than even having nuclear bombs dropped on our land the traditional way. This exponentially more dangerous threat would come from an enemy of the U.S. detonating even just one nuclear bomb high in our atmosphere causing massive electrical magnetic pulses (EMP) over the whole nation or from the sun itself in the form of EMPs from coronal mass ejections (CME). Our electrical grid is vital for survival of the civilization we have built over the last century. I want to answer the questions presented first by describing what the threats are in detail. By doing that, I will be able to explain why I think not enough has been done about this threat despite being well-known for at least 60 years. After reading these details, most people should be worried. For everyone’s resolve, I will describe some options in dealing with this threat and provide my plan to utilize just $5000 to inspire the necessary changes that could help us all sleep better at night.
An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation in the form of a spectrum of millimeter waves. This results in rapidly varying electric and magnetic fields. These fields may couple with electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges. An EMP can be produced by a number of phenomena including: lightning, high-powered microwave (HPM) weapons, coronal mass ejections, and nuclear explosions. EMP is most frequently caused by lightning. Most of our electrical infrastructure already has defenses and solutions for the damage caused by them. This protection was already easily achieved, because lighting only produces a localized EMP, and though we did not fully understand what EMP was, we have known of its effects on electronic systems since electricity was first being used in our society. HPM weapons can be more damaging because its direction can be chosen by its operator. However, its effects can not cause massive damage. Nuclear bombs themselves produce enough EMP energy themselves to possibly knock out power of a few cities temporarily. Even that is not such a scary threat when compared to its regular explosive and radioactive damage. That leaves two phenomena left that cause EMP and pose a serious and terrifying danger. Nuclear detonated EMP’s real threat comes from being detonated in the low density upper atmosphere and its reaction with the earth’s magnetic field. Just one average nuclear bomb being detonated in the upper atmosphere over our country would wipe out almost the entire country’s electrical grid permanently until much of it is repaired and replaced. This is because its reaction with Earth’s magnetic field drastically increases its power and spreads very far in the thin air. Detonation at this height does mean we would probably be safe from the explosion and nuclear radiation itself. Lastly, coronal mass ejections (CME) and solar storms could produce just as much if not more EMP damage as high altitude detonated nuclear bombs. CMEs are solar flares. Solar flares are massive plasma ejections from the sun spanning many times the distance of Earth’s diameter. When ejected towards Earth, it flings unfathomable amount of EMPs towards us. We have been lucky enough to not have a large enough ejection emitted in our direction in our age of technological dependency.
There is no arguing that our country is underprepared for massive EMP destruction from a nuclear bomb or the sun’s CMEs. This level of destruction has been estimated to leave our country without power for the at least a year before being repaired. In that amount of time, our civilization would fall apart. Our cars would mostly still work, but gas pumps would not work. We would lose the power grid, transportation, communication, and all the other things that rely on these working. Starvation, murder and lack of medical resources would lead to most of our population being wiped out. Not to mention, it would make it all too easy for a foreign enemy nation to take over our crippled country and military.
Why have we not worked more towards mitigating this threat? I believe there are a few reasons. I think the biggest reason is we have not felt a reason to be afraid. We have not had a large EMP event in our country from the sun or a weapon. No entity has used a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere to attack a country’s electrical grid. It has been tested on a lower scale in the mid-1900s on a lower scale, but has never been used for an attack. That is not to say this topic has not stirred up several times. It is even starting to seem like this topic is getting the proper attention it needs; with, President Trump mentioning its importance and need for change several times during his presidency. I did some google searching of “is it possible to protect our electrical grid from an emp” and found a website that mentioned a former state representative made some unprecedented strides in legislation bring attention to the need for protection of our electrical grid against EMPs earlier this decade. However, this site did not have any citation or seem credible enough to be a reliable source. Therefore, I searched the name of the representative from that website “Andrea Boland EMP” and found she had a post to OurEnergyPolicy.org referring to her legislation and inviting discussion to the topic. Former Maine Democratic state Representative Andrea Boland was a leader back in 2013 for a bill that passed meant to protect Maine’s electrical grid from EMP and solar storm threats. On her post to OurEnergyPolicy.org, she said, “In March 1989, a moderate solar storm hit Quebec, Canada, causing a province-wide blackout that cost two billion dollars in direct damage, and scattered effects throughout the northeast United States.” (Boland) Scientists have made estimates that there is about a 12% chance of a CME causing a massive EMP in the US over the next decade. There have been a number of politicians calling for studies, initiatives, and ideas for dealing with our power grid defenses against EMPs. Although, I cannot find anywhere where there is direct legislation that calls for the implementation of specific installations or replacements to the power grid that will safeguard it against EMPs. I believe that is what we need to actually become adequately prepared.
I think it is waste of time and money to attempt to make focus plan to deal with the aftermath. Though, I am sure FEMA has a plan that will do something, I am convinced that it would do very little as to help the number of casualties. The damage would so vast that any plan addressing what to after the disaster would do very little to help chaos and the death toll in my opinion. I think the more sensible option would be to fortify our electrical grid against this threat, just like we already have for lightning. As I have said earlier, multiple politicians have put forth legislation that also brings attention to this issue. Still, some of those legislations are nearly a decade old and not much has happened. We are virtually just as vulnerable as we have always been for decades. Therefore I decided I wanted a plan that can best make a difference utilizing $5000. I would like to say my plan would involve me figuring out the exact technology and implementation to protect our electrical grid. However, I do not yet have enough knowledge of electromagnetism or our power grid to figure this out on my own. Therefore, my plan would involve reaching out to students and professionals that are studying or working in fields compatible with coming up with solutions for this as well. I would create a competition website. It would state that for each person or group that I believe to be one of the five best solutions, they would each win $1000. Not to mention if they patented their innovation they could become rich if legislation were approved to require its use. I would contact heads of departments, clubs, and research centers at colleges requesting that their students can participate in the competition. I would also reach out to the power grid industry research groups to request their participation. To have a valid entry in the competition each participant’s solution would have to address two things. It would have to include their tested technology required to reinforce our country’s power against EMPs in the most economical way they can come up with and include a cost estimate of its implementation. All the while this competition were going on, I would also work to bring the attention of this threat and this solution, through my competition, to the attention of news organizations, the electrical industry, and politicians. My hopes would be that by the end of the competition, that I could bring enough attention to it that at least a one of the solutions would be found viable enough to introduce federal legislation that specifically outlines requirements of changes to the electrical grid that would protect it from EMPs. The solution would not have to be perfect; but, it would at least need to reduce that possible damage to no worse than we might see from big storms or common outages that we are currently use to dealing with. If legislation is passed, either from my plan or by any other means, that specifically outline requirements for our electrical grid to be made safe from EMPs, then I believe all people in America will be significantly safer as a nation. The need for an aftermath plan would become unnecessary. I hope even my plan can inspire comfort about the possibility of the future of our nation’s safety.
Boland, Andrea. “What Maine Did to Secure Its Electric Grid from Electromagnetic Pulse and Geomagnetic Disturbance.” OurEnergyPolicyorg WaterEnergy Nexus Debate Heats Up Comments, 8 Aug. 2013, 10:38 AM, http://www.ourenergypolicy.org/what-maine-did-to-secure-its-electric-grid-from-electromagnetic-pulse-and-geomagnetic-disturbance/.