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.
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.
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.
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.
And if that doesn’t drive home the seriousness of the threat, your smart phone won’t work as well. Not much else either will for years, even decades, meaning diseases and famine will unfold fairly quickly as medicines sour without refrigeration and the computerized food distribution systems disappear on blank screens everywhere. Your electronically-controlled money won’t pop out of an ATM even if you could prove what you own if it evaporates in a mirage of data bits. Stores wouldn’t be able to process transactions so your plastic cards would be useless anyway. There would be no way to buy food or fuel or even know what’s going on via the Internet which would be down for as long as the grid was.