Posted by: doug308 | October 16, 2009

Should the Government Harden It?

As we all know a nuclear reaction can be created for a number of purposes. One of those purposes being a big nasty explosion. And one of the effects of such an intentional nuclear explosion is something called an Electro Magnetic Pulse which is generally referred to as EMP. What’s that got to do with the power gen industry you ask? Well, here’s an answer in the form of EMP 101.

ThumbnailServer2Anyone who has ever had an electronic device in their home fried by lightning or had their kid lay a toy magnet on their computer knows that externally induced high voltage and magnetism are not good for things that run on electricity. Well the EMP produced by even a modest nuclear blast would produce an electro magnetic charge sufficient to cause negative effects on a broad scale to everything that uses electricity. And this effect would not be as simple as just blowing a bunch of fuses or tripping breakers creating havoc for a few weeks. We are talking about completely frying the system to the extent that, according to some experts, it might take as much as four to eight years to get things back in order.

Up until now such a scenario really hasn’t been a great big concern because the danger of a nuclear explosion was primarily related to all out war between ourselves and the Soviet Union or China. And if any one of us dropped the big one/s having the electricity shut off was going to be the least of our worries. But now things are different. The change in political climate over the last decade or so has made it so there is little chance of the big three super powers pushing the button down on one another. However, there are now a lot of little “rogue” states like North Korea and Iran who may have, or would like to get, nuclear weapons. And while they may not have enough to wipe us out with a first strike, it would only take one moderately sized weapon detonated in the upper atmosphere to produce the effect mentioned above. So, while getting cooked in a fireball is less likely, the nuclear threat is not gone.

So, we have a new sort of nuclear threat hanging over us. What now? Well there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that the technology to protect such critical systems has existed for quite a while and is in use in a number of places and things, primarily those under the influence of the military and federal government. The bad news is to “harden” critical civilian systems (communications, power transmission, transportation, and etc) using such technology while not terribly hard to do, is pretty expensive and the scope of such a project would be immense. For example, having to take every power and telephone line in the nation off its pole and bury it in a protected concrete structure. Doable? Yes. But pretty labor intensive and it would take a long while to accomplish. Moreover, I can’t imagine getting a lot of volunteers for this job and the people who would do such work typically do not work cheap. Utilities have known about EMP effects for years, but because of the nature of the threat little effort was made to address it. And at this point the rate increases created by such projects taken on privately would not sit well with the citizenry. That leaves only the feds to take it on, which we would certainly pay for as well in the form of taxes. Though the cost would be spread out among a large group of folks.

So, here are the questions. Is this a big enough threat to worry about? If so, how would you like to pay for it? With expensive electricity (forcing some much needed conservation efforts) or through high state and federal taxes?

Let me know what you think.

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