I’d like to add some comments on a political science subject, with a bit more emphasis on the science–which is not to say the political implications are less important in our present day.

I write a lot, more non-fiction than fiction, but I have written fiction and still have ideas along those lines.  I had an idea, about 12-15 years ago, that I have yet to fully develop, which I titled “Without Power.”  The premise was that suddenly during morning rush hour, all power goes out around the globe.  Wherever you happen to be at the moment, you’re stuck there.  Your car won’t work, your cellphone, anything with electronics including microchips won’t work.  NPR goes out.  Talk radio goes out.  BBC is down.  Your cigarette-lighter powered shaver goes out during a last-minute cleanup up in the rear-view mirror.  So, what do you do?  You get out of your car and walk.  Where do you walk?  Home.  How do you survive without communication, conveniences, ease of mobility, all of the things we take for granted?  Not just that, but the infrastructure of world power goes out as well.  How well is that one going to work out?

One of my thoughts that I never fully researched was how electrical systems would just suddenly go out throughout the world.  One early thought was that it would remain unexplained, mysterious and supernatural.  The story, instead, would focus on the drama of everyone suddenly being “equaled out.”  Struggles for power would form on local and regional levels.  What system(s) would develop out of the crisis?

I found out recently, to my surprise, that country-wide power outages are possible, and I thought I would give some resources in case anyone is curious–because, as we all know, if the technology is there, then those who would use it are there.  Any naysayers can just check out the villains in Austin Powers or any of the James Bond films:)

I’ve written, on this blog, about some results of fear (“Election Year Fear” and “Goodness Breeds ~ Goodness!”)  The full truth is that fear can be a good thing.  Generally, it’s true that good has a bad side, and bad has a good side.  That’s why the balance of powers between Congress, the President and the Supreme Court is a good thing.  Balancing power so that the bad can’t get an edge over the others is a good thing.  On a current note, President Obama last night stated that he would seek more power for his executive branch and that he would bypass Congress, if necessary, any time they didn’t agree with his political agenda.  This is not a good thing.  Let’s say he does consolidate power around the presidency, and then Mitt Romney wins the November election.  How well is that one going to work out for Democrats?

Fear is now and has seemingly forever been used politically from every direction as a bad thing, but it’s also a natural, human instinct.  If you hear someone walking around your house at night, leaves are rustling around outside when they shouldn’t be, you’re probably going to get up and take a look.  It’s natural.

So, the first step to eliminating any fear that develops is that you make yourself aware of what’s really going on outside.  Probably a deer or racoon, or a stray dog, and then you can sleep good that night.  That’s the same premise here, with the concept of suddenly being “without power.”  Awareness is the first step.  You know the technology exists.  You know there are those who would use it for not-so-good purposes.  You’re hearing the leaves rustling outside.  Awareness allows you to sleep good each night–or, to take further steps toward your own, your family’s and your friends’ safety.

It’s simply saying that given that this scenario can happen, ask yourself:  “What would I do if…?”  It’s up to you.  My aim here is just toward the awareness part.  Or, to give some writers out there a decent story line about this dark premise.  NOT!  It’s my story.  Actually, a thriller, titled “One Second After,”  was written in 2009, and has been optioned a second time as a film.  (A lesson that when you get an story idea, jump on it.  I could have had a book out on the subject ten years ago if I had knuckled down.)  The author of the 2009 book, however, is tied as a cowriter of separate books with a prominent politician now running for president, so it’s up to you if you want to check it out.

Here’s where to find the scoop on the technology itself, and its “already-tested” history that dates back to July, 1962.  Funny how it usually takes so long for the “little people” to become more aware of what the “big people” have been up to.  Makes you wonder what else they’ve hidden up their sleeves since 1962.  A lot, I think.  As an aside, I was seven years old, almost eight, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union detonated a series of these nuclear EMP devices over the Pacific and the Soviet Union.  This was during the Cuban Missile Crisis with John F. Kennedy as president and Nikita Khrushchev as leader of the Soviet Union.  Maybe because I’ve always been more on the arts side than the science side, I never became aware of those tests, and the technology, until now.

[ http://www.futurescience.com/emp.html ].

[Excerpts from the article]:

Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse by Jerry Emanuelson, B. S. E. E.

Futurescience, LLC  Colorado Springs, CO

In testimony before the United States Congress House Armed Services Committee on October 7, 1999, the eminent physicist Dr. Lowell Wood, in talking about Starfish Prime and the related EMP-producing nuclear tests in 1962, stated,

Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books.  As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero.  The origin and nature of this damage was successfully obscured at the time — aided by its mysterious character and the essentially incredible truth.

The Starfish Prime Nuclear Test
from nearly 900 miles away

Although nuclear EMP was known since the earliest days of nuclear weapons testing, the magnitude of the effects of high-altitude nuclear EMP were not known until a 1962 test of a thermonuclear weapon in space called the Starfish Prime test.   The Starfish Prime test knocked out some of the electrical and electronic components in Hawaii, which was 897 miles (1445 kilometers) away from the nuclear explosion.   The damage was very limited compared to what it would be today because the electrical and electronic components of 1962 were much more resistant to the effects of EMP than the sensitive microelectronics of today.   The magnitude of the effect of an EMP attack on the United States, or any similar advanced country, will remain unknown until one actually happens.   Unless the device is very small or detonated at an insufficiently high altitude, it is likely that it would knock out the nearly the entire electrical power grid of the United States.   It would destroy many other electrical and (especially) electronic devices.   Larger microelectronic devices, and devices that are connected to antennas or to the power grid at the time of the pulse, would be especially vulnerable.

. . .

The Starfish Prime test (a part of Operation Fishbowl) was detonated at 59 minutes and 51 seconds before midnight, Honolulu time, on the night of July 8, 1962.  (Official documents give the date as July 9 because that was the date at the Greenwich meridian, known as Coordinated Universal Time.)  It was considered an important scientific event, and was monitored by hundreds of scientific instruments across the Pacific and in space.   Although an electromagnetic pulse was expected, an accurate measurement of the size of the pulse could not be made immediately because a respected physicist had made calculations that hugely underestimated the size of the EMP.   Consequently, the amplitude of the pulse went completely off the scale at which the scientific instruments near the test site had been set.   Although many of the scientific instruments malfunctioned, a large amount of data was obtained and analyzed in the following months.

When the 1.44 megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead detonated at an altitude of 250 miles (400 km), it made no sound.   There was a very brief and very bright white flash in the sky that witnesses described as being like a huge flashbulb going off in the sky.   The flash could be easily seen even through the overcast sky at Kwajalein Island, about 2000 km. to the west-southwest.

After the white flash, the entire sky glowed green over the mid-Pacific for a second, then a bright red glow formed at “sky zero” where the detonation had occurred.   Long-range radio communication was disrupted a period of time ranging from a few minutes to several hours after the detonation (depending upon the frequency and the radio path being used).

In a phenomenon unrelated to the EMP, the radiation cloud from the Starfish Prime test subsequently destroyed at least 5 United States satellites and one Soviet satellite.  The most well-known of the satellites was Telstar I, the world’s first active communications satellite.  Telstar I was launched the day after the Starfish Prime test, and it did make a dramatic demonstration of the value of active communication satellites with live trans-Atlantic television broadcasts before it orbited through radiation produced by Starfish Prime (and other subsequent nuclear tests in space).   Telstar I was damaged by the radiation cloud, and failed completely a few months later.

. . .

A nuclear EMP attack could come from many sources.  A missile launched from the ocean near the coast of the United States, and capable of delivering a nuclear weapon at least a thousand miles inland toward the central United States, would cause problems that would be devastating for the entire country.  A thin-cased 100 kiloton weapon optimized for gamma ray production (or even the relatively-primitive super oralloy bomb of more than 56 years ago) detonated 250 to 300 miles above Nebraska, would destroy just about every unprotected electronic device in the continental United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico.  Such a weapon would also knock out 70 to 100 percent of the electrical grid in this very large area.  Nearly all unprotected electronic communications systems would be knocked out.  In the best of circumstances, as completely unprepared for such an event as we are now, reconstruction would take at least three years if the weapon were large enough to destroy large power grid transformers.

The more that preparations are made for an EMP attack, the less severe the long-term consequences are likely to become.  In comparative terms, being ready for an EMP attack would not cost a lot, and the benefits would include a much higher reliability of the electrical and electronic infrastructure, even if a nuclear EMP attack never occurred.  Adequate preparation and protection could keep recovery time to a month or two, but such preparations have never been made, and few people are interested in making such preparations.

Hardening the electronic and electrical infrastructure of the United States against an EMP attack is the best way to assure that such an attack does not occur.  Leaving ourselves as totally vulnerable as we are now makes the United States a very tempting target for this kind of attack.

By not protecting its electrical and electronic infrastructure against nuclear EMP, the United States invites and encourages nuclear proliferation.  These unprotected infrastructures allow countries that are currently without a nuclear weapons program to eventually gain the capability to effectively destroy the United States with one, or a few, relatively simple nuclear weapons.

Severe solar storms can cause current overloads on the power grid that are very similar to the slower E3 component of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse.  There is good reason to believe that the past century of strong human reliance on the electrical systems has also, fortunately for us, been an unusually quiet period for solar activity.  We may not always be so lucky.  In 1859, a solar flare produced a geomagnetic storm that was many times greater than anything that has occurred since the modern electrical grid has been in place.  We know something about the electrical disruption that the 1859 Carrington event caused because of the destruction it caused on telegraph systems in Europe and North America.  Many people who have studied the 1859 event believe that if such a geomagnetic storm were to occur today, it would shut down the entire electrical grid of the United States.  It is likely that such a geomagnetic storm would destroy most of the largest transformers (345 KV. and higher) in the electrical grid.  Spares for these very large transformers are not kept on hand, and they are no longer produced in the United States.  Protection against nuclear EMP is also protection against many kinds of unpredictable natural phenomena that could be catastrophic.