There are currently 104 commercial nuclear reactors operating within the United States. Another 64 known research units are sprinkled throughout as well. Under normal circumstances nuclear power has been declared safe, and under normal circumstances this appears to be the case. Facilities are designed to withstand a number of disasters both natural and manmade. But in the event of a solar storm – an event that would knock out transportation and infrastructure that NASA is warning might happen sometime around 2012 or 2013, these facilities may face challenges that would have to be solved within hours, or risk becoming the single event to shape a horrific future mankind could exist in.
The Fukushima nuclear facility has reminded a nation along with the rest of the world about the dangers of this ordinarily safe and efficient form of energy production. But now that we have a spider’s web of nuclear facilities wrapping around the world, it may be prudent to prepare for an event such as an EMP from a manmade nuclear device or a solar storm, which could knock out electricity and more importantly transportation.
In the event of an EMP event, a common misconception is that all vehicles would immediately be rendered inoperable. This isn’t necessarily true according to tests by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which first studied the effects of nuclear detonation. Many of the experiments conducted at Oak Ridge are still used as the foundation of our understanding of nuclear war today. What they found was that in the case of an EMP attack, vehicles would be saved by the fact that the engine is not grounded allowing the electromagnetic pulse to pass around it harmlessly like a faraday cage.
What these tests didn’t take into account was the possibility that these vehicles may one day have complex electronics onboard. In recent tests on vehicles there is some evidence that even these newer cars would be fairly resistant to an EMP, but the reality is this is still largely an unknown.
Nuclear facilities require a vast infrastructure to keep them safe carting everything from replacement parts to fuel for the water pumps in the event the facility must be shut down. This was one of the major concerns for the Fukushima nuclear plant earlier this year when the generators broke down. Assuming the generators survived the solar storm, they would still need a ready supply of fuel to reach each of the 164 known facilities and they would need trucks, fuel refineries, drivers, safe highways, and electronics to organize the effort. This recovery would have to happen amidst a major national catastrophe. And if the fuel and parts did not reach the facilities, major construction would have to be undertaken so the facilities themselves did not melt down completely. A worst case scenario would no doubt be the worst technological disaster of all time to ever face mankind.
Is it a major point of concern?
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were the foundations for safety standards that would eventually reach the US making seemingly impenetrable walls of concrete and steel to keep radioactive materials contained within to prevent Chernobyl level devastation in the west.
But NASA scientists have been working to ensure preventative measures are put in place. A Carrington level event in 2013 – while not guaranteed – would be something to be concerned about, but since Fukushima many nuclear power experts are taking no chances and ramping up safety measures to ensure events like this one and others don’t leave us in a scenario of apocalyptic proportions.