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Lights Out Lantern - Oct 8 2014 Sun photo by NASA
Lights Out Lantern – Oct 8 2014 Sun photo by NASA
Failure to harden electrical structures and spent nuclear fuel storage leaves U.S., global population vulnerable to solar or terrorist induced apocalypse

News & Analysis

Snaking across the face of the Sun right now is a million miles long filament made up of massive clouds of plasma, NASA revealed October 3. It’s part of the “solar maximum” in its 11-year cycle.

The filament, barely a month old, probably will tear off the Sun from one end to the other like a giant flaming zipper in a spectacular coronal mass ejection, or CME. Billions of tons of plasma will blast off our closest star at millions of miles per hour. Pity anything that gets in its way.

Should the serpentine CME hit Earth head-on, the consequences would be catastrophic. Electrical grids across the globe would crash and with them life on this planet as we know it.

In late July, NASA confirmed that a full CME would knock America and the world back into the Dark Ages. One related U.S. government study put the mortality rate in the United States at 90 percent in the first year in such an event. The odds of such a CME in the next decade are an astounding 12 percent, which is about the same as the chances of a major earthquake long overdue to hammer Southern California.

Less than a month after the NASA statement, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission rubber stamped new rules that will allow electrically run spent nuclear reactor fuel rods to be stored in spent fuel ponds indefinitely. The NRC dismissed any chance of fiasco, let alone a longtime crashing of the grid, multiple nuclear meltdowns and spent fuel pools (SFPs) catching fire.

Instead, the U.S. government codified policy that ensures that nuclear catastrophe awaits the country, and the world, if nuclear power plants and SFPs aren’t protected from the inevitable CME that will toast the nation’s and planet’s infrastructures.

Massive amounts of radiation would spew into the air and water fouling the land and triggering a never ending nuclear nightmare. People and advanced mammals not killed outright by societal breakdown and mass disorder would face fallout far fiercer than anything put out by the ongoing triple meltdowns at Fukushima Japan.

Million mile long plasma filament snakes across Sun early October 2014 - NASA SDO photo
Million mile long plasma filament snakes across Sun early October 2014 – NASA SDO photo
Besides mass radiation poisoning, genetic mutations would be introduced in the DNA of fauna and flora of all types, the most evolved mammals being the most susceptible. The impact of a massive CME won’t just affect the nuclear reactors and SFPs in the United States, but worldwide where more than three quarters of them are situated.

Yet as daunting as the challenge is, the cost of fixing electric grid infrastructural weaknesses and beefing up replacement transformers fried by the CME in the U.S. would be $2 billion, which per person is roughly the price of half a pack of cigarettes in New York City, $6.27.

Of course, the crucial additional cost of safely storing spent nuclear fuel will be more but not by much, $3.8 billion or $11.28 per American. That would involve moving spent rods from the SFPs to “dry casks” which can keep the toxic tubes air-cooled for up to twenty years with no electricity needed. Each dry cask can hold about a metric ton of fuel assemblies and costs about $1 million each.

All told, the cost per capita to fortify the electric grid in the United States, and to expedite movement of spent nuclear fuel rods to electricity-free dry casks domestically, would be $17.55, or less than the price of a small White Pizza at America’s oldest licensed pizzeria in lower Manhattan, Lombardi’s Pizza.

Don’t expect to see that estimated $5.8 billion budgeted anytime soon. A higher priority for the Obama Administration is to spend $355 billion over the next decade to overhaul nuclear weapons systems that can, in all practicality, never be used. It’s part of a trillion dollar initiative over 30 years.

While ensuring our very existence is priceless, even at these mouthwatering prices, EnviroReporter.com has uncovered a pattern of insipient stupidity that has made it virtually impossible for anything to remedy the dangers exposed herein. Serious discussion of these issues, based on sound science, isn’t taken seriously and gets lost in a blizzard of half-baked denunciations, and defenses of, nuclear power.

There is no room or willpower to address a very certain natural event that will destroy the country, and world, if nothing is done. The public is largely disinterested in things hard to understand and deemed unlikely to happen. Coronal mass ejections, grid collapse and radioactive nightmare don’t generally register. It’s easier to surf Facebook and forget about it.

Lights Up Over Broadway

Before the world revolved around electricity, even before the American Civil War, the main effects of a massive CME strike was the beauty it created along with compasses that no longer read right. The skies over New York City lit up with undulating waves of rainbow sherbet-shaded lights in the first week of September 1859. The phenomena painted the heavens so bright with luminous red, purple and green auroras that newspapers could be read at midnight.

What hit Manhattan 155 years ago caused Northern Lights to pulsate as far south as Hawaii, El Salvador and Cuba. This solar storm was the largest recorded CME ever.

The Carrington Event of 1859 lit up Antarctica and points beyond including New York City.
The Carrington Event of 1859 lit up Antarctica and points beyond including New York City.
Known as the “Carrington Event”, the CME exploded with the force of ten billion Hiroshima bombs blasting over two billion tons of charged particles at 6.7 million miles per hour. It fried 200,000 miles of the telegraph wire with a huge surge of electricity that set telegraphs on fire.

Other major CME’s, though not as powerful as the 1859 Carrington Event, include the “Great Geomagnetic Storm” during May 14-15, 1921 and the March 1989 Quebec blackout that took down the Canadian province’s grid in less than two minutes.

We experienced more solar unrest last month on September 9 and 10 when two coronal mass ejections blasted out of the Sun and bore down on the Earth at over 1.5 million of miles per hour. The CME’s missed hitting the planet dead on – but just barely.

Instead of crashing electrical grids across the globe, the September CME relatively glanced off the northern part of the globe. The result was a display of the Northern Lights as far south as an arc in the United States as “low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon” according to the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA ranked this solar storm “G3-Strong.”

One Week from Extinction

Two years ago, we really got lucky. Americans found out from NASA this summer that in July 2012, Earth missed by a week being hit head on by the largest solar storm ever recorded, nearly 60 percent more powerful than the Carrington Event. It would have been lights out, literally and figuratively.

“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” said Professor Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado in NASA’s article Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”

An American solar observatory in orbit, STEREO-A, was able to capture the solar storm’s eruption and analyze its eruptive power without damage as it was constructed for such an event. The odds of another humongous CME blast hitting Earth straight on in the next decade are a whopping 12 percent according to a physicist cited in the NASA piece.

A huge coronal mass ejection captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory
A huge coronal mass ejection captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory
The catastrophic results of such a magnetic storm, where most electrical systems on the planet would be destroyed, would plunge the world into chaos, deprivation, violence and starvation. An April 2008 congressional committee report investigated an event which would have effects similar to a CME – an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. In the Report of the Commission the impact of to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructures, 90 percent of the American population would be dead within a year.

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  1. First, there is no reason to believe a nuclear power reactor can be protected — for any price — from meltdowns caused by a CME or EMP, because everything would be fried, including backup transformers, trucks to move them, phones to assemble a work force, and backup diesel generators when all else has also failed. Meltdowns would begin within minutes, not a month as stated in the article.

    To prevent this, the reactor companies would have to build whole new control rooms, new cables, new valve actuators for the pipes, new motors and controllers for the pumps, new everything. They couldn’t do that in time. Who could they order the parts from? Who could deliver/assemble it in time? There is no “ounce of prevention” that will protect against CMEs, EMPs, or many other hazards. Except to stop making more plutonium and fission products, and let the fuel cool (both radioactively and thermally).

    To suggest that we could fix the grid and the spent fuel pool pumping systems — making them both impervious to CMEs and EMPs for a few billion dollars — is wishful thinking. Back in the days of the Carrington Event, everything was made of large, discrete circuits. Now even the small runs of wires inside a computer chip can pick up enough current to fry the delicate transistors on the chip itself — and even stronger pulses would come from the wires that run from chip to chip on the motherboard, or from the motherboard to the power supply, keyboard, monitor, control valves in the reactors, etc..

    In short, there is little practical advantage to protecting the spent fuel pools without first shutting down the reactors.

    Second, while a SFP contains more radioactivity than an operating reactor, an operating reactor has short-lived (8 days, for instance), very dangerous isotopes which would be released. Operating reactors contain ~50 to ~70 tons of nuclear fuel, so that’s a lot of radiation, regardless of how it compares to a spent fuel pool. And it’s far more likely to be released, and far more quickly, than the radiation in a Spent Fuel Pool.

    In all likelihood, in the case of an EMP or CME, both would be released, but the SFP might take a few days or even as much as a week to begin releasing its radioactive fission products, while the reactor would have melted down moments after power was lost, if the motors, controllers, actuators, etc. are also fried, which is sure to be the case. Once the water evaporates in the spent fuel pool, it too would release its fission products quickly.

    The plutonium and uranium is less likely to be released immediately, but will eventually enter the groundwater (like Fukushima is doing now). However, with an operating reactor it is much more likely that there will be a plutonium/uranium fire, in addition to a zirconium fire.

    If there wasn’t a melting-down reactor right next to the spent fuel pool, a bucket-brigade from a nearby lake could be operated to keep water in the pool. But keeping it properly circulating would be much more difficult. (And that’s assuming nobody was busy doing anything else, like surviving, and assuming word could be gotten out that it was needed, through word-of-mouth since nothing else works.)

    Third, dry casks are really only useful against a CME or EMP if the reactor is off and the spent fuel pool is emptied. And they offer little or no protection against a wide variety of other natural and manmade events: Earthquakes, tsunamis, jumbo jet strikes, terrorist attacks, embrittlement (to name a few).

    Fourth, “Millions of tons” should be “nearly 100,000 tons” (if ~80,000 tons is close enough for “nearly” (the correct figure occurs later in the article)).

    Fifth, the NRC never had a plan that would relieve the spent fuel pools of their danger from a CME or EMP, let alone, to protect the reactors themselves from it. Their plan was to reduce the overcrowding in the pools by adding the danger of dry casks to the mix. The hottest fuel would still be in the pools and the time-to-catastrophe after a power loss would still be just a couple of days at all operating reactor’s pools. Perhaps more importantly, by reducing the overcrowding, criticality events would be less likely. A CME or EMP would not alter the configuration of the fuel, so it would not create a criticality event immediately, like a conventional weapons placed in a spent fuel pool, or a jumbo jet landing on top of it, could do. (Once the fuel rods start burning, the fuel will fall to the bottom of the pool, and criticality events are possible, but not certain.)

    Sixth, during operation, San Onofre put billions of dollars away for the inevitable decommissioning. No reactor puts enough away to get the job done, simply because then, people would be more inclined to demand it be done. But the final cost that San Onofre’s owners cite should not be used as a standard. They alternately try to include all sorts of expenses that should not be included, and not include many more that should be! No doubt, it will be expensive — but meltdowns are vastly more expensive.

    Seventh, each dry cask holds quite a bit more than one metric ton of fuel assemblies (more like 10 to 15 or 18 metric tons). I think the million dollar estimate is old; it’s probably closer to two million per cask these days. And that’s for thin, easily-damaged dry casks, and doesn’t include the pad they sit on, for instance. Stronger casks are quite a bit more expensive. San Onofre wants to cut corners.

    Eighth, if one of San Onofre’s spent fuel pools lost all its water, it is believed (by the experts at Southern California Edision) that the fuel rods would no longer have enough heat to catch fire even if ALL the water drained out. Your estimate was for when it had fuel that had recently been removed from the reactor. It’s probably accurate for Indian Point, but not for San Onofre.

    Ninth, there is absolutely no reason to think the “atomic power pioneers” could not have foreseen the mess they have made for us. They talked themselves out of worrying about it for a variety of reasons, but they knew there was a problem right from the start.

    Tenth, as for Woolsey’s claim that the defense department has been using EMP-hardened electronics for “more than 50 years” that’s only true in a very limited sense: They have experimented enough to know how, but they’ve actually only protected a few vital targets, and a few vital tools. The vast majority — perhaps 99%, maybe even more — of military hardware is not protected against a CME or EMP in any way.

    Heck, it’s not even protected against fraudulent parts! The country’s armed forces equipment is riddled with them.

    It will cost many billions of dollars to re-equip our military with hardened (and hacker-proof) devices, and many more billions to restructure our energy grid. Woolsey’s 2008 cost estimates were woefully low then, and are even more inaccurate now. And even having hardened the grid and the pools, at any cost, it would still leave all our civilian equipment vulnerable — all our smartphones and personal computers — including everything that a “modern” reactor contains. All modern reactors are computer controlled — because humans make mistakes! (Like they did at San Onofre…and at Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Santa Susana, Fermi 1, SL1, etc..) (Computer programs can have bugs, too!) All the controllers for the individual pumps and valves are computer-controlled too — not just the control room.

    This may seem like a long list but it was a long article!

  2. @All: The U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent us a “WARNING” from its Space Weather Prediction Center just over an hour ago:

    Space Weather Message Code: WARK07
    Serial Number: 57
    Issue Time: 2015 Sep 08 0323 UTC

    WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater expected
    Valid From: 2015 Sep 08 0321 UTC
    Valid To: 2015 Sep 08 0900 UTC
    Warning Condition: Onset
    NOAA Scale: G3 or greater – Strong to Extreme

    NOAA Space Weather Scale descriptions can be found at

    Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.
    Induced Currents –
    Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.
    Spacecraft – Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur.
    Navigation – Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur.
    Radio – HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent.
    Aurora – Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon.

    [Our emphasis]

  3. @vital1: This is amazing information dutifully ignored by the U.S. and world governments. And by most folks in general because it is too grim to face the humanity-ending reality of what a ‘Killshot’ will do to the hundreds of nuclear reactors and spent nuclear fuel rod pools surrounding the globe with over 70 more to come on both sides of the Equator. But not you, vital1, thank goodness.

    However, what is to be done if no one does anything in the face of a major CME killshot, estimated to have a 12% chance of slamming into the Earth full blast in less than 10 years? Know this: If the lights go out, and all electrical systems you can detect go down for more than two weeks due to a CME killshot, we are beyond being blown back into the Dark Ages; we will have entered the Atomized Age where all we have exposed in Lights Out will occur with near certainty.

  4. HUGE Solar Blast – ‘Killshot’ will Miss Earth | S0 News February 22, 2015


    If this 21st of February 2015 solar CME event was Earth facing, it would have been “Lights out!”


  5. The following Nuclear Regulatory Commission “Special Inspection” was tripped due to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts losing power to a massive, but short-lived, snowstorm. Imagine if the scenario were the inevitable solar storm reported on in this article – where the power does NOT come back on and you will realize the vulnerability of our aging nuclear power plants in the USA. Such a scenario would cause multiple meltdowns at the site, its spent fuel pools to eventually evaporate and catch fire and the destruction of Massachusetts and a good chunk of the Eastern Seaboard.

    From the NRC notice sent to EnviroReporter.com this morning:

    NRC Initiates Special Inspection at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has begun a Special Inspection at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant to review issues surrounding a storm-induced unplanned shutdown on Jan. 27. The single-unit boiling-water reactor is located in Plymouth, Mass., and is owned and operated by Entergy.

    The six-member team, which will arrive on-site today, will be tasked with reviewing equipment issues that occurred during the shutdown, including the partial loss of off-site power; the failure of a condensate pump motor associated with the plant’s High-Pressure Coolant Injection (HPCI) system; and the malfunctioning of one of the plant’s four safety relief valves.

    Pilgrim, like other nuclear power plants, transmits power to the grid but also receives power back for operational purposes. During the recent major winter storm, one of two 345-kilovolt lines that provide off-site power to the plant tripped. In response, plant operators began reducing power. At about 50-percent power, the second 345-kilovolt line also tripped, resulting in a reactor shutdown, or scram, at about 4 a.m. A third off-site power line, a 23-kilovolt line, remained available.

    Operators started the plant’s two emergency diesel generators and transferred electrical loads for safety systems to those on-site power supplies due to concerns with off-site power. The transfer was performed by the operators prior to the loss of the off-site power lines.

    “The Pilgrim reactor was safely shut down following the loss of two off-site power lines,” NRC Region I Administrator Dan Dorman said. “Nevertheless, we want to examine more closely the challenges that surfaced during the event, including safety system and equipment problems and the loss of the two off-site power lines.”

    An inspection report documenting the team’s findings will be issued within 45 days after the completion of the review.

  6. It is so beyond stunning that these plants were ever built in the first place,let alone the industry be handled in such a criminally negligent way. Insane psychopaths is the only thing I can think of. No matter what the issue is nowadays, it’s always money first, and let humanity and the planet be damned.

    There’s no money to harden the grid, but there certainly is plenty of it to overlay the system with the “SMART” GRID! The whole system may go down anyway without any so-called black swan event when they finish putting millions upon millions of uncertified, building code busting, hot running, and RF/EMF pulsing, dangerous, and spying military weapons on our homes. Let alone all the mandated “STAR” energy appliances ‘talking to the meters’. With one of those meters on my home my light bulbs constantly burn out, the GFCI outlets trip all the time, LED TV screen burned out and I have to run the A/C 5 degrees cooler in the summer heat than I ever had to before because the house seems to be cooking (I probably am too), and it just runs hotter now.

    Thousands have been made sick from the powerful spikes of RF and dirty electricity, yet the utilities and their brothers, the utility commissions, now threaten to shut your power off if your refuse to let them put one on your home! They do not care! Nothing will stop them when the gov. is pouring ‘grant money’ by the billions to ‘deploy’ the meters. By the way they will charge you higher to recoup ‘their’ investment that’s for your own good. Don’t forget, your homeowners ins. will NOT cover any damages from fires or losses due to the SMART meters, and there have been plenty. We may be looking to trade places with the other illegals that are just dying to get into this wonderful AmeriKKa. So sad that the scum of the earth ended up running the earth.

  7. * Thank you(!) Michael Collins for adequately addressing the consequences of an electrical grid blackout –a threat the potential extent of which can not be over-stressed.

    My biggest regret in having to take down my old web pages was losing the one in which I posted similar warnings, but you’ve handsomely relieved me of that duty, Michael.

    * Unfortunately, our efforts to spread this alarm are unlikely to have much effect. Dr. Richard Fisher, head of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, has been jumping up and down about this extinction level threat for years, but to no material avail –per:

    > http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/04jun_swef/

    “A report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that over the standard 40-year license term of nuclear power plants, solar flare activity enables a 33 percent chance of long-term power loss, a risk that significantly outweighs that of major earthquakes and tsunamis.”
    > http://www.ibtimes.com/severe-solar-storms-could-disrupt-earth-decade-noaa-826351

    Given the intransigence of Congress, the President and those vested corporate interests calling the shots, the logical private response is to get busy burying long term time capsules (high fire ceramic tiles seem the best bet) in greeting, support, apologies and warnings to our (hopefully humanoid) inheritors.


  8. OMG Michael…what a horrifying scenario you have described in “Lights Out”!!!! You have most certainly climbed out on a very fragile limb to describe the planet destroying certainty of a CME added to Fukushima, which is already an ELE…an Extinction Level Event in progress…..and by our beloved life sustaining and planet warming sun!
    The whole world is,currently, at tremendous risk from thousands of spent fuel rods cooling around the world, until they can, possibly, be placed into those million dollar dry casks, and meanwhile placing all of us severely at risk of a terrorist or enemy government attack. The world simply cannot afford the dire risk of leaving tons of nuclear waste lying around, to be seen and easily targeted every time the sun rises. And now,it seems that the sun itself is likely to become a mortal enemy!
    Given all of the above, it is extremely frightening to consistently observe that our Government remains in denial about such an ELE, and that they continue to remain in bed with the Nuclear industry, being apparently concerned only with MONEY and not human welfare or our very SURVIVAL!
    Michael, please keep your sole and unique investigative articles coming… no matter what!

  9. If a solar or wind farm were to go down because of a CME, or terrorist attack, it wouldn’t wipe out half a country and poison the land for centuries.

    Michael, your article clearly documents how Nuclear technology threatens all life on our beautiful planet. Nuclear power is a technology dinosaur of the 20th century. It should be quickly abandoned for newer, much safer sources of power generation.

  10. A recent inspection of a Diablo Canyon two year old canister shows stress corrosion cracking conditions are present now — not in the 30 years the NRC estimated. The canisters cannot be repaired. And there is no technology to inspect for cracks. The NRC thought it would be years before the temperature of the canister would be low enough for salts to adhere to the canister (85 degrees C or less). Canister prices are close to $4 million each — not the $1 million number everyone has been using. What else do you need to know to stop this madness of putting fuel in canisters that may fail short term? We need better casks now. Here’s link to Diablo report summarizing findings.

    Here’s link to handout: Top Ten Reasons to buy Thick Casks.

  11. Nature’s power can neither be controlled nor mastered.

    I agree that the Spent Fuel Pool ‘situation’ is one of the biggest problems humanity faces.

    The massive amount of radioactive contamination that could be released from these Spent Fuel Pools could easily become the source of Planetary Mass Destruction in the blink of an eye.

    “Atomic power pioneers could not have foreseen that they built high value terrorist targets that if attacked and destroyed would kill scores and ruin the land with radioactivity.”
    – Michael Collins

  12. I’m thinking that governments and nuclear power related stakeholders are simply choosing to “assume it will never happen”. This allows the greatest profit to be generated by underspending on safety-related engineering. When the EMP or CME disaster finally happens, we will be wiped out of existence in the “blink of an eye”. Who will be held accountable? No one, because at that point, justice is moot. That will be the perfect crime.

    My only hope is that reasonable men and women will finally say, “This has the potential to become the greatest disaster humanity has ever faced. How can we stand by, take no action, and allow this risk to continue? If your going to do nuclear power, do it safely. Otherwise, don’t do it at all.” Need a sound bite mass media? “Do It Safe or Not at All.”

  13. Thanks Michael for connecting the dots. We’ll do what we can to help because this plan makes profound economic sense and “can create jobs” (Argle Bargle).

  14. @Joan Bien: Thank you for the kind words but our exposé has nothing to do with the theory or plot of this novel so I didn’t suss out the details of it. Indeed, I never heard of it before you wrote this comment. The novel is about EMPs but not about CMEs with resultant meltdowns and spent nuclear fuel pool fires. Also, this isn’t an “odd scientific theory;” this is connecting the dots between several very real scenarios using NASA and Nuclear Regulatory Commission information and EnviroReporter.com investigation based on what we’ve been reporting on for years.

  15. Politics can be decidedly weird. Republicans who detest spending money on anyone other than themselves are the ones who are sounding the alarm. They have embraced a fictional novel that is set in just such a disaster. It is well-written and makes a compelling case for getting off our asses and hardening the grid. It can be done less expensively before a flare although it is not cheap. Freedom ain’t cheap either. That, too, would be a casualty.
    This particular form of disaster is not even on the radar of most people. The book “One Second After” makes a few important points. One is that once it does happen, you are on your own.
    We need to prepare NOW in order to survive whatever could possibly come. We live in earthquake USA but are in complete denial. If we are ready to survive the Big One, we will be better prepared to live without the juice.
    The other point made in the book is there will be no way to find out what happened. Was it an act of war? An accident? A test gone wrong? A solar flare?
    The conclusion in the book: Does it really matter?
    Here, Collins did a wonderful job of sussing out the details. In such a scenario, it is the details that can make the difference between life and death. Thank you for making an odd scientific theory completely relevant and understandable.

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