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The U.S. Senate has dropped a House-approved plan that would prepare the United States to defend itself from an attack from any electromagnetic pulse source – whether it would be from a natural solar flare or the detonation of a space-located nuclear weapon by enemies intent on destroying America’s infrastructure, according to a representative who has raised alarms over EMP.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said it is “unfortunate.”
“While one part of the federal government was warning us of possible solar electromagnetic-pulse damage to our electric grid, a key Senate commission approved a bill to ignore this threat,” he said.
“It’s particularly ironic since the Senate amended a bill, H.R. 5026, approved unanimously by the House that would specifically protect the grid against solar EMP and other physical threats,” he said.
The concern is that any nuclear detonation that could be launched into the atmosphere anywhere from 25 to 250 miles above the United States could decimate the nation’s electric grid, essentially transporting it instantly back to an era of mechanical machines and agriculture.
Bartlett explained that the danger also comes from naturally occurring EMP signals from sources such as a solar storm.
Just in the past few days, the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued several alerts concerning a sun flare that happened. The alert forecast a “Coronal Mass Ejection” from the sun would impact the earth.
Then, a short time later, Fox News reported the storm caused “a fantastic light show in North America” and the NOAA estimated the impact ranged from minor to moderate.
“The National Academies of Sciences predicted in a 2008 report that a solar geomagnetic storm as severe as the Carrington event that occurred in 1859 could inflict $1 trillion to $2 trillion [damage] and take 4-10 years to recover from. That compares with the $300 billion impact of Hurricane Katrina,” Bartlett noted.
Another report from NASA estimated such a cosmic “superstorm” could cause as much damage as “20 Katrinas.”
Whether the damage would come from a natural solar event or a nuclear bomb detonated in the atmosphere over America, the results could be the same for power distributors, telecommunications companies, satellite and aviation-sector companies – a virtual shutdown.
The results for Americans would be a collapse in the delivery system for food, fuel, information and communications.
Bartlett noted EMP from a severe solar geomagnetic storm in 1989 shut down the electric grid in Quebec, and he cited a 2008 study from NASA that found the storm caused $2 billion in damage.
Among its many other impacts, it destroyed a transformer at a nuclear plant in New Jersey, Bartlett’s report said.
Even so, Bartlett said, yesterday the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee decided to dump the House plan, H.R. 5026, which directed “the Secretary to establish a program to develop technical expertise in the protection of systems for the generation, transmission and distribution of electric energy against either geomagnetic storms or malicious acts using electronic communications or electromagnetic pulse.”
Instead, adopted was a Senate plan, S. 1462, which instead promotes “clean energy.”
“H.R. 5026 had been approved unanimously by the House on June 9, 2010, and previously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee 47-0. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s version of H.R. 5026 doesn’t include physical threats to the grid such as electromagnetic pulse,” Bartlett reported.
“It’s a big IF, but IF the Senate approves EITHER an energy bill OR a cybersecurity bill that includes grid-security provisions, there could be a conference to reconcile differences between the Senate and the House version of H.R. 5026,” he said.
The Senate’s substitution for the House security provision is “to provide financial support for deploying clean-energy technologies.”
It also requires the assembly of “a renewable-energy credit-trading program and an energy-efficiency credit-trading program, under which utilities will submit credits to comply. …”
The House plan concerned itself with “emergency measure” to protect the reliability of the nation’s grid.
At that time, he said, while cyber-attacks are a concern, a “really robust [nuclear] EMP lay-down means microelectronics across the country would be shut down [and] you have no power … there’s one event that we will not avoid, and that is a solar electromagnetic interference, solar storm. If we have a big one like the one that occurred back in 1859, that would shut down the whole grid for quite a long while. … It would cost about $100 million to protect much of the grid, but if the grid went down, it would cost us between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in damages, and the loss of life could be horrendous if in fact you were without electricity for months at a time.”
William R. Graham, chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack and the former national science adviser to President Reagan, had testified before the Congress and issued an alarming report on “one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”
He identified vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical infrastructures that “are essential to both our civilian and military capabilities.”
Not taking the steps necessary to reduce the threat “can both invite and reward attack,” Graham told the members of Congress at the time.
EMP is a pulse of energy that can be produced from nonnuclear sources, such as electromagnetic bombs. Some experts claim an electromagnetic-pulse shock wave can be produced by a device small enough to fit in a briefcase. But the most threatening and terrifying type of EMP attack could come following a blast from a nuclear weapon 25 to 250 miles above the Earth’s surface. Like a swift stroke of lightning, EMP could immediately disrupt and damage all electronic systems and America’s electrical infrastructure. A detonation over the middle of the continental U.S. “has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures that support the fabric of U.S. society and the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power,” said Graham.
“Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear-weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability,” said Graham. “A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. For example, an adversary would not have to have long-range ballistic missiles to conduct an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack could be launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast using a short- or medium-range missile to loft a nuclear warhead to high altitude. Terrorists sponsored by a rogue state could attempt to execute such an attack without revealing the identity of the perpetrators. Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States. While the commission does not know the intention of Iran in conducting these activities, we are disturbed by the capability that emerges when we connect the dots.”
An EMP assault could prove devastating because of the unprecedented cascading failures of major infrastructures that could result. Because of America’s heavy reliance on electricity and electronics, the impact would be far worse than on a country less advanced technologically. Graham and the commission see the potential for failure in the financial system, the system of distribution for food and water, medical care and trade and production.