February 25, 2013 – The Shield Act: “Who’s on First?”


Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives!

E-Mail Message 130225

The Shield Act: “Who’s on First?”

Congress will soon again consider legislation to protect the nation’s Electric Power Grid from either the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from the detonation of a nuclear weapon high above the United States or a massive Geomagnetic Disturbance (GMD) caused by a solar superstorm, a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). As discussed in our December 20, 2012 email report, both are existential threats to the lives of most Americans—pertinent questions are: “Which will occur first?”  And, “Will we be prepared to cope?”

Up to now, understanding the efforts to deal with these existential threats has been blocked by a set of bewildering circumstances reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s comic routine: “Who’s on first?” But nothing is funny about continuing failures of allegedly responsible agents of the public good. 

February 25, 2013

In 2002, Congress chartered a blue ribbon commission to consider the EMP threat—a good start. That EMP Commission described in no uncertain terms, in 2004 and 2008, the reality of both the human and natural threat and recommendations for dealing with the threat. But neither the administration nor Congress did anything—and the highly qualified commission disbanded.   

Since then, a few dedicated members of Congress and private individuals have sought without success to persuade the powers that be to deal with an EMP threat that is well known to our sworn enemies and could lead to the death of up to 75-percent of all Americans if not addressed.

High Frontier is studying these largely bureaucratic conditions so that we can explain to the American people how their institutions and representatives are failing them—especially in dealing with the nuclear threat, which can be countered by effective ballistic missile defenses. Then maybe they will demand that the “powers that be” do their jobs. Consider this a progress report on answering a few key questions.

Won’t the Department of Defense (DoD) protect Americans from EMP Attack?  So sorry.

You would think DoD would lead the charge to protect Americans from EMP effects.  Indeed, we first learned about EMP in1962 high-altitude nuclear testing in the South Pacific, when EMP from the Starfish high altitude nuclear test damaged electrical infrastructure in Hawaii. Since then, DoD has spent a lot of money to protect our strategic systems from EMP effects in a conflict in which nuclear weapons might be used.

So, the DoD understands what needs to be done and retains the responsibility for maintaining these skills to assure that future strategic systems, but regrettably not the American people, can survive these effects.

It should be understood that if Americans were protected from an EMP attack, they would also be protected from CME/GMD events.  DoD could provide “one stop shopping,” if only it would.

Why are they not protecting Americans from an EMP attack?  Answer: Not DoD’s job, except when it is.

For example, developing missile defense is a DoD mission, and DoD gives priority to building missile defenses for our overseas troops and allies—not so much for Americans at home.  To be sure, DoD has built a limited defense to shoot down a couple of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) before they detonate their nuclear warheads a hundred or so miles over the U.S. But if a nuclear-armed short range missile were launched from a vessel off our coasts, our current missile defense plans and programs are deficient.  Even terrorists could accomplish such an attack—once they obtain and mate nuclear weapons to ballistic missiles. 

In any case, missile defenses won’t protect us against a massive solar emission—or CME, which occurs infrequently (on the order of every century or so—and one is overdue).  For that we need protection, and particularly for the electric power grid which is critically important and vulnerable to GMD caused by a massive solar emission (sometimes referred to as a Carrington event, the first recorded major GMD event, which occurred in 1859.  The most recent geomagnetic superstorm occurred in 1921.  These events occurred before the advent of our present day continentally interconnected electric power grid with its inherent vulnerability to multi-state cascading failures.

DoD does not see fixing this problem as its job—although as noted above, if the grid were protected from a high-altitude nuclear explosion, it also would be protected from a CME/GMD.

Who is protecting Americans at home? What about the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)?  Not much.

Key related Civil Defense measures once within DoD’s charter were passed during the Carter administration to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and most recently to DHS, where FEMA now resides. But DHS has yet even to include EMP in its recommended set of threat scenarios governing its recommended protective measures for the various departments of government (and the states).  And DHS has no particular capability for either understanding this threat or its countermeasures—DoD retains that competence.

A decade ago, the EMP Commission used some of its limited funds to pay the DoD to extend its normal activities to document EMP effects pertinent to the survival of the nation’s critical infrastructure.  No one was doing this elementary work and no funds were available among the billions appropriated each year for DoD-related activities “beyond its charter.” Actually, DoD was spending relatively little on EMP effects on systems that were clearly within its charter.

DHS presumably is responsible for assuring the viability of our critical infrastructure, which includes the electric power grid.  But it is hard to see much real DHS effort on that front as noted above.   

So, who is next in line for protecting the electric power grid? The Department of Energy (DOE)?  Maybe

DOE’s responsibilities with the electric power grid should extend to concerns about the EMP and CME/GMD threats to the grid.  Furthermore, since nuclear reactors depend on the electric power grid for cooling, DOE would be concerned about the possible loss of the grid for an extended period—which could lead to major calamities of the sort observed from the tsunami effects on the nuclear reactors in Japan two years ago.  States that depend on nuclear reactors for their electric power also should be concerned about this possible threat. (We have 104 nuclear power reactors at 65 sites in 31 states.)

DOE and DHS sponsored an important October 2010, Oak Ridge National Laboratory study―Electromagnetic Pulse: Effects on the U.S. Power Grid, which included a series of comprehensive technical reports for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). These reports disclose that the commercial power grids in two large areas of the continental United States are vulnerable to “severe space weather”—read solar activity that can result in a large earth-directed CME, inducing a GMD that collapses the commercial grids in these vulnerable areas. Excess heat from induced currents in transmission lines would permanently damage approximately 350 extra high voltage transformers.

The U.S. no longer manufactures these transformers and under normal conditions it would take 1-2 years to ship them from Germany or South Korea, where they are now produced. As a result, about two-thirds of nuclear power plants and their associated spent fuel pools would likely be without commercial grid power for a period of at least1-2 years. In a worst case scenario, they might never arrive since our transportation system depends on electricity no longer available after losing the grid. Not to mention the consequences of losing cooling water for lack of electric power, e.g., like in the tsunami event in Japan a couple of years ago that contaminated much of the surrounding region all the way to Tokyo.

Recent expert financial analysis indicates that the grid could be protected to avoid these most undesirable CME/GMD outcomes for an annual cost of a postage stamp-per-subscriber.  Regrettably, FERC, which has validated previously elaborated concerns about this threat with their own studies, doesn’t have the authority to effect changes.  Under current law, the responsibility for electric power grid standard development resides with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an electric industry consortium.

So, who does have this needed authority?  Well, there’s definitely a problem. 

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has oversight responsibilities for related plans and programs that might reside in DOE—and elsewhere.  But during the last Congress, proposed legislation to deal with the vulnerability of the grid to EMP and CME/GMD events stalled for 18-months in that committee, presumably due to electric industry concerns that have entered the political milieu.

The reluctance of the private sector can probably be traced to a very faulty 2012 study by NERC, which alleges to be responsible for protecting the grid from natural and nuclear EMP.  This study is refuted by several authoritative studies, including the EMP Commission, the National Academy of Sciences, DOE and that of the FERC mentioned above which included careful studies by several U.S. National Laboratories. Notably the NERC report counsels a strategy of “further study.” In other words, do nothing.

No wonder some experts consider the NERC to be a lobby for industry to evade government regulation.  Some members of the NERC’s own Geomagnetic Disturbance Task Force (GMDTF) refer to the 2012 NERC report as “junk science.” And so far its strategy and tactics have worked—if delay and confusion were its objectives.

Meanwhile the clock ticks on. What shall we do?

We now are in a solar maximum, the period every 11 years during which CMEs are most likely. Someday during one of these 11-year maxima periods, many experts expect a repeat of the 1859 Carrington Event which destroyed telegraph stations and the undersea telegraph cable during the horse and buggy days when food was grown locally—an annoyance but not an existential threat. 

Next time in an era of just-in-time manufacturing, production, shipping, etc. and little local agriculture, the consequences for our increasingly urban society are expected to be horrific—experts have testified that two-thirds to ninety percent of all Americans could perish within a year.

Pray that it won’t happen during this maximum, and that we will wise up before our time runs out.

There are plans to reintroduce legislation, previously referred to as “The Shield Act,” in the current congress—and it remains to be seen whether it will fare better this time around.  Meanwhile the clock is ticking on Mother Nature’s solar emission-caused GMD—not to mention the manmade nuclear EMP threat as Iran increases the number and speed of its centrifuges while ignoring the sanctions intended to block their progress toward getting “the bomb.”

So, why isn’t the private sector alarmed about this threat?

Maybe FERC will work to better inform NERC—and maybe NERC will listen to its own GMDTF and at least deal with the CME/GMD events. DHS might provide a set of scenarios to deal with both EMP and CME/GMD events and provide them to other government agencies and the states and local authorities to help them plan to deal with these existential threats. DoD and DOE also could be more helpful in preparing meaningful inputs to the process.  Passage of the Shield Act would be an important step to allow FERC to mandate the development of needed protection standards.

Does that alphabet soup remind you of Abbot and Costello?  We think High Frontier has a bit to do just to unscramble the language and alert the public to the existential threats posed by both manmade and natural means—and what can be done about these threats

We can use your help in spreading the word to grass roots and local authorities to press the powers that be to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.  Will you do your part?

Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, www.highfontier.org for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!

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