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EMP Troof!

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Fred Hiatt sees fit to give the EMP nutjobs (no less a statesman than Newt!) a platform:

I write this now because of my concern for national security and our power grid, which are susceptible to doomsday-level damage if hit by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike or a major solar storm.

It is almost unthinkable, yet possible, that an enemy could detonate a nuclear weapon over the atmosphere over the continental United States, triggering an electromagnetic pulse. This would short-circuit our power grid, taking power off­line for months, perhaps even years.

Wrote an article about this quite a while ago. Long story short, there are many, many “unthinkable, yet possible” things which are considerably more thinkable and possible than a nuclear EMP attack against the United States. If, for example, you consider the almost astronomically small chance that Iran will detonate a nuke over the US sufficient to devote billions of dollars to prep, then you really, really ought to take seriously the staggeringly greater chance that anthropogenic climate change will have a catastrophic impact on the international economy and global society. But of course it’s harder to connect climate change to the need for missile defense.  EMP nutcases should be treated with the same esteem as vaccine deniers, birthers, and 9/11 troofers. As a former Weekly Standard editor of my acquaintance said,  “I don’t go for that EMP stuff. Kind of more interested in dangerous scenarios that might actually happen.”

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  • Cody

    I’m confused, why is the EMP pulse an issue? Shouldn’t we be more worried that they’ll just detonate a nuclear bomb in New York City or Washington D.C.?

    I’ll gladly take not having power for a year over being blown up or (worse) suffering severe radiation poisoning.

    • EMP is an issue because it would be a glorious decades long boondoggle to subsidize the defense industry.

      Personally I feel those billions would be much better spent on zombie defense.

      • NonyNony

        Hey if we want to be throwing “defense” money at preparations for attacks that will never happen, can we make it the impending alien invasion force? At least then we might get some space exploration out of the boondoggle.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          They’re already here. Romney is their leader. Be afraid.

          • Cody

            Romney is a Mormon, not a scientologist!

            • Malaclypse

              That means he is a Son of Kolob.

            • greylocks

              Thanks for clarifying. I sometimes have trouble keeping my parody-resistant cults straight.

          • wjts

            I have it on good authority that Romney is a robot sent from the past* to destroy the future.

            *They sent him away because no one there liked him either.

        • DrDick

          A defense which, last I heard, the American Physical Society said could not possibly actually work.

    • I’m confused, why is the EMP pulse an issue?

      It clears the way for the overwhelming forces of Al Qaeda to invade.

  • Mudge

    Even taking Newt seriously, there are two approaches, missiles and upgrading/improving the grid. If the grid is a national issue, then the US should undertake this infrastructure improvement.

    Of course. a better grid probably means better profits for the electric companies. Certainly market forces will stimulate private grid improvements. Not holding my breath.

    I read today about how Germans are able to install solar power on their roofs and connect seamlessly to the electric grid, and earn a buck. Can’t do that in the US. Imagine the entrepreneurs we’d find in Arizona and Nevada. But we can’t have that, all power (in every sense) is in the hands of massive corporations.

    So, Newt brings up the power grid, a worthy subject, then discusses it in an idiotic, irrelevant and bombastic way. He is a Republican.

    • Hanspeter

      I read today about how Germans are able to install solar power on their roofs and connect seamlessly to the electric grid, and earn a buck. Can’t do that in the US. Imagine the entrepreneurs we’d find in Arizona and Nevada. But we can’t have that, all power (in every sense) is in the hands of massive corporations.

      Incorrect. Many local utilities allow for home photovoltaic systems to be connected to the grid and feed excess generated power back to to it for credit. Google for “grid connected photovoltaic system” plus your local utility to see what they offer.

    • Cody

      I imagine there is a way to use solar panels to power your own house rather seamlessly though. You would just need some kind of regulator AFTER your meter.

      Or of course you could just pretend to use no power at all

      • Right. You’d connect the solar transformer (solar generates DC) directly to your breaker panel via the main. You’d only be metered for power that the utility actually has to feed you to cover any shortfalls.

      • Njorl

        You’d need extensive storage capacity. Consumers use a lot of power in the early evenings, while the community as a whole has peak demand during the day. That’s why the ability to sell onto the grid is important for this. You sell your power onto the grid during the day during peak demand, and buy power in the early evening.

        This is incredibly far from being economically viable. For each buck made by some German selling power onto the grid, the German government is spending about $10 in subsidies. You’re better off sucking CO2 out of the exhaust of power plants if you want to reduce CO2 emissions economically.

        • Emma in Sydney

          In Sydney we have a lot of sunshine. Our PV array makes power that our house uses first, so we run the dishwasher, washing machine and fridge during the day for nothing, and excess power we don’t use is sold to the grid. It has cut our usage of power that we have to buy in half. And we get a warm inner glow.

    • Njorl

      Highly efficient, silicon carbide, power-switching transistors became market-viable about a year ago. The development of such technology has been a good reason not to do a major rebuilding of our electrical grid until now. They’re much more efficient than their silicon counterparts, and easier to harden vs. emp. I have no idea how much the cost goes up if you harden them, though. Considering that the payoff is probably nothing, it is a hard sell. Using diplomacy to avoid nuclear explosions in our airspace is probably cheaper.

      Ignoring EMP, it is still a good time to do a major rethinking of the electrical grid. We have abundant labor, low financing costs, new technologies, new priorities and quite likely harsher environments.

      • Cody

        Wouldn’t it be grand if we did some New Deal-style stimulus putting people to work to improve our infrastructure! Wait, Obama didn’t want to do Keystone so Republicans are anti-infrastructure now!

        • BigHank53

          The Keystone pipeline exists for the sole purpose of delivering oil to a port where it will receive an enormous tax subsidy. Canada has loads of coastline, in case you hadn’t noticed, and most of it closer than the Gulf of Mexico.

          • Cody

            I was alluding to the amendment of the Keystone pipeline to a highway repair bill as a reason we could never get any kind of infrastructure spending passed.

            They’ll attach things to make money to anything, no matter how unrelated it is.

            • BigHank53

              Ah, sorry I missed that.

          • Speaking as an Albertan, I would prefer that tar stayed in the ground. Since I know that is a pipedream (heh), I am putting pressure on our government to refine the shit here and sell you foreign bastards the value added product.

            Why the hell would we ship the refinery jobs out of country?

  • Some Guy

    At the moment, the East Coast power grid can be entirely shut down with a well placed stick.
    Maybe we worry about that, first.

    Unless Newters here is suggesting a multi-trillion dollar Federal entitlement program to force an EM-sheilded infrastructure rebuild down the throats of Americans.

    • Spuddie

      At the moment, the East Coast power grid can be entirely shut down with a well placed stick.
      Maybe we worry about that, first

      And has been shut down for such reasons on many an occasion.

      Unless Newters here is suggesting a multi-trillion dollar Federal entitlement program to force an EM-sheilded infrastructure rebuild down the throats of Americans.

      Nice play on the GOP’s oral fixation. =)

  • Manta1976

    Let me get it straight: the Washington Post ran an OP on a topic that the Weekly Standard rejected?

    • Njorl

      The editor of the Weekly Standard probably didn’t lose power.

  • daveNYC

    If we can harness the crazy to get a program in place to improve our national electrical grid that’d be great. Unfortunately I think the crazy would end up trying to build a nationwide network of airborn radiation detectors tied into a missile system.

    • ajay

      Unfortunately I think the crazy would end up trying to build a nationwide network of airborn radiation detectors tied into a missile system.

      Due to a lack of brainpower I misread this on first glance as “a nationwide network of abortion radiation detectors tied into a missile system”.
      Equally plausible, though, I would argue.

      • daveNYC

        Radioactive abortions? I think we should run with this as a pitch for a B-movie.

        • Hogan

          Get me Troma!

    • Spuddie

      If we can harness crazy into a form of electricity, we can power the world.

      I wonder what the nutcase per joule ratio is for the average politician.

  • Robert,

    There’s an X1.4 coronal mass ejection headed towards the earth right now. It should disrupt at least GPS units worldwide tomorrow, and possibly interfere with satellite radio and TV.

    The largest solar flare recorded this year was an X5.4 flare, fortunately facing away from the earth.

    Had that hit, all hell would have broken loose. That would have been an EMP event, albeit one that could have been prepared for. Upgrade the grid, encourage local production of renewable energy sources, and we can sail through them.

    It was thirty five years ago tonight that the second city-wide blackout– the Koch Blackout (because it knocked Abe Beame out of office)– occured in NYC in the past 55 years. All that took, apocryphally, was a kicked utility pole– the reality was a series of lightning strikes that took out the power lines from Indian Point and the Sprain Brook substation in Westchester.

    By the way, without that blackout, there’s no hip-hop music. True story.

    • Njorl

      There’s an X1.4 coronal mass ejection headed towards the earth right now. It should disrupt at least GPS units worldwide tomorrow, and possibly interfere with satellite radio and TV.

      Those systems rely on transmitting and receiving electromaganetic signals. They are many orders of magnitude more vulnerable to electromagnetic disturbance than the powergrid. Hardening the powergrid will do nothing at all to protect those systems.

      That being said, the EMP from solar sources is not a threat to electronics. It only affects transformers attached to long power lines. It is much cheaper to implement protections against this than against nuclear EMP. Since it is much more likely threat, and a much cheaper threat to address, it might be worthwhile to implement countermeasures.

    • Furious Jorge

      By the way, without that blackout, there’s no hip-hop music. True story.

      I insist that you explain this.

      • Malaclypse

        Manual spinning of records on unpowered record players.

        • ajay

          Huh. I was wondering which maestro of early hip-hop was born exactly 34 years and three months ago…

          • Malaclypse

            I’m wondering how many people are wondering what a “record player” is…

            • Njorl

              It’s an athlete who sticks around long after his prime to chase some specific record.

              • witless chum

                That’s a Ripken.

      • It was mostly that the perfect storm of a major blackout and major economic downturn led to rather widespread looting, which led to a whole lot of relatively cheap electronic equipment suddenly available in the poorer neighborhoods in New York.

        This is a widely-accepted account of hip-hop’s origins, but there’s also literally no way to tell this story without sounding kinda racist.

        • jon

          Umm, I was cruising by kids popping and locking on the street corners in Newark in ’79. Thing was happening, and the blackout might have moved it along. But it was happening.

  • gmack

    Look Rob, all I know is that you’ll be singing a different tune when zombie Newt Gingrich starts eating your brains.

    • Glenn

      After which, he will present you with divorce papers.

  • Halloween Jack

    As others have mentioned, there are really good reasons to look at the current state of the power grid and ways to improve it. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of thing that most people only see as important in the immediate aftermath of a big outage like this one. People like Newt see an opportunity to get public funds into the hands of their supporters, who will reward them in turn, and since public attention will fade quickly, any such money or contracts awarded won’t be paid attention to much, meaning that the beneficiaries of that legislation could get billions for not doing much at all, if anything. (And if anyone figures that out, they can always blame it on the Obama administration.)

  • Ella

    Someone needs to tell Newt that “Oceans 11” was not a documentary.

  • Glenn

    Does anyone doubt that if EMP is a serious weapon, the US will be the first to use it? We’re nothing if not cutting-edge in Death Technology.

  • Hob

    I’m totally in favor of EMP attacks if they’ll result in Jessica Alba beating people up and solving mysteries.

  • Ian

    EMP nutcases should be treated with the same esteem as vaccine deniers…

    That’s unfair. Spending vast sums of money on EMP protection would indicate some seriously misplaced priorities, but unlike the vaccine-autism myth EMP is a real thing. EMP-proofing would be like building a tiger-proof fence around your home in Minnesota, eccentric and wasteful but a cut above believing in pyramid power.

    • Njorl

      Not to be confused with building tiger-proof fences in Ohio, which seems empircally reasonable.

      • Malaclypse

        Njorl, I want to buy your fence.

        • Njorl

          I was actually referring to the large number of escaped lions and tigers in Ohio last year.

        • Holden Pattern

          Don’t buy his fence. Buy my rock.

  • Trollhattan

    And here I’d thought Newton had moved on to a younger, hotter disaster scenario. Also, too, what does this tell us about when we’re to start bombing Iran? What say you, John Bolton?

  • greylocks

    The attraction of missiles to the EMP nutters is that missiles are manly things, if you know what I mean.

  • Space weather would actually be something to worry about in terms of a Carrington event hitting our power grid. That would be a problem.

  • jon

    The Soviet Union thought it prudent to bury their primary electrical distribution network. We think it costs money. The Serb’s power distribution network didn’t fare so well when we draped carbon fiber ribbons over their power lines. If we got some focus, we could reduce summer brownouts, more easily integrate wind and solar power production, and be prepared for solar flares and the random airburst nuke.

  • cpinva

    we stand a far greater chance of being wiped out by an anti-biotic resistent strain of the flu, than we do of an EMP attack. those guys really should use the heavy-duty aluminum foil for their helmets. clearly, signals are still getting through.

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