Contrary to most of Washington, Iran and North Korea have understood that the US power grid is extremely vulnerable to attack by an EMP weapon, and have tasked their scientists and military planners to study the strategic impact of an EMP event.
North Korea appears to have successfully tested a “Super-EMP” weapon during its 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons tests, while Iran has tested ballistic missiles in an EMP mode – that is, detonating them at high altitude, not in a ballistic trajectory – and deemed those tests a success.
Many experts believe the weapons programs of these two countries have been developed as joint ventures, since Iranian scientists traveled to North Korea to assist in North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear weapons test campaigns, and North Korean scientists regularly travel to Iran to take part in Iran’s missile tests.
Is an EMP attack on America far-fetched? It’s hard to say. But an America without power would essentially revert to the early 1800s, when a pre-industrial America was able to sustain a population of fewer than 100 million souls. Such a catastrophe would give flesh to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s dream that a “world without America is conceivable.”
Similar damage to the national power grid also could be brought about by a geomagnetic solar storm. President Obama’s science advisor, John Holdren, warned in a March 10, 2011 oped co-authored with his British counterpart that such a solar maximum event could occur at the peak of the current solar cycle in the next 12-18 months, with catastrophic effects.
“Space weather can affect human safety and economies anywhere on our vast wired planet, and blasts of electrically-charged gas traveling from the Sun at up to five million miles an hour can strike with little warning,” Holdren wrote. “Their impact could be big — on the order of $2 trillion during the first year in the United States alone, with a recovery period of 4 to 10 years.”
Holdren and his British colleague, John Beddington, claimed there was “commitment on both sides of the Atlantic” to rapidly implement the technology fixes needed to shield the electric grid from such an event.
And yet, two congressional hearings earlier this year devoted to protecting the grid focused almost exclusively on the dangers of a cyber attack, not the dangers of solar flares or a nuclear EMP attack.
Many members of Congress may consider cyber-warfare to be “sexier” than the messy business of trying to evaluate the intentions of Iran and North Korea, or trying to chart solar activity.
Besides, a cyber warfare bill will pour oceans of money into an endless software race between ever evolving computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses, and cyber-antidotes. Great fortunes will be made, and careers advanced. Who knows how many Solyndras will make out like bandits on the taxpayers’ dime. Cyber warfare is a lobbyist’s dream.
The SHIELD Act requires US utilities to harden large transformers and other key elements of the nation’s power. It calls on the federal government to establish protection standards and hardware solutions in concert with industry, and includes a provision for cost recovery should industry incur substantial costs.
Rather than creating more government, as the cyber-warfare programs would do, the SHIELD Act relies on a public-private partnership – and no taxpayer dollars – to achieve its goals of protecting American’s power backbone.
The EMP Commission and the Strategic Posture Commission have warned in detailed reports of the catastrophic destruction an EMP attack or similar solar event would have on the American way of life. Similar reports have been issued by the administration’s own Department of Energy, and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Not protecting against such events is like playing Russian roulette, EMP expert John Kappenman tells me. “If you play Russian roulette long enough, you will lose.” In this case, Congress is playing Russian roulette with the entire American people.
Congress needs to get real and pass the SHIELD Act now, as if our lives depended on it.
Because they do.
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