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Solar Flare Could Unleash Nuclear Holocaust


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#1 trammel

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Posted 17 September 2011 - 07:44 PM

I live the San Diego area and recently we had a huge blackout.

I came across this unrelated article today.

"Several federal government studies suggest that this extreme solar activity and emissions may result in complete blackouts for years in some areas of the nation. Moreover, there may also be disruption of power supply for years, or even decades, as geomagnetic currents attracted by the storm could debilitate the transformers."


Now imagine the scenario: You've got a massive solar flare that knocks out the world power grid and destroys the majority of the power grid transformers, thrusting the world into darkness. Cities collapse into chaos and rioting, martial law is quickly declared (but it hardly matters), and every nation in the world is on full emergency. But that doesn't solve the really big problem, which is that you've got 700 nuclear reactors that can't feed power into the grid (because all the transformers are blown up) and yet simultaneously have to be fed a steady stream of emergency fuels to run the generators the keep the coolant pumps functioning.

How long does the coolant need to circulate in these facilities to cool the nuclear fuel? Months. This is also the lesson of Fukushima: You can't cool nuclear fuel in mere hours or days. It takes months to bring these nuclear facilities to a state of cold shutdown. And that means in order to avoid a multitude of Fukushima-style meltdowns from occurring around the world, you need to truck diesel fuel, generator parts and nuclear plant workers to every nuclear facility on the planet, ON TIME, every time, without fail, for months on end.


http://au.ibtimes.co...ar-power-pl.htm

Apparently, the current solar flares are causing a geomagnetic storm that has knocked, at least one, satellite from orbit. and it's also responsible for a lot of beautiful auroras as well.

This article at National Geographic has some good information.

During the Carrington Event, northern lights were reported as far south as Cuba and Honolulu, while southern lights were seen as far north as Santiago, Chile. (See pictures of auroras generated by the Valentine's Day solar flare.)

The flares were so powerful that "people in the northeastern U.S. could read newspaper print just from the light of the aurora," Daniel Baker, of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, said at a geophysics meeting last December.
In addition, the geomagnetic disturbances were strong enough that U.S. telegraph operators reported sparks leaping from their equipment—some bad enough to set fires, said Ed Cliver, a space physicist at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Bedford, Massachusetts.

In 1859, such reports were mostly curiosities. But if something similar happened today, the world's high-tech infrastructure could grind to a halt.


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#2 knob macabre

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Posted 17 September 2011 - 10:00 PM

ugh here we go again. please stop trusting sensational journalists for science, this excerpt is sad in how uninformed it is. I'm not saying that nothing bad would happen to nuclear reactors if there were an implausibly massive solar flare (which is what you would need for the effects stated in this excerpt), but the situation and the conclusions drawn here are frankly kind of dumb if you think a little about the science, and I'm not a science guru by any stretch. I'll point out the most egregious:

Now imagine the scenario: You've got a massive solar flare that knocks out the world power grid and destroys the majority of the power grid transformers, thrusting the world into darkness. Cities collapse into chaos and rioting, martial law is quickly declared (but it hardly matters), and every nation in the world is on full emergency. But that doesn't solve the really big problem, which is that you've got 700 nuclear reactors that can't feed power into the grid (because all the transformers are blown up)


if you had an EMP powerful enough to knock out our power grid transformers caused by a solar flare, you'd have a lot of much bigger problems than our nuclear reactors melting down, assuming they all would. first of all, the number of nuclear reactors in the world is closer to 500, and that's spread over something like 65000000 square miles of land mass (196M square miles of earth surface area, about 1/3 of which is land), meaning nuclear power plants are few and far between, unless you live on an aircraft carrier or submarine. but like I said, you'd have bigger problems anyway, because an EMP that could knock out our grid would also destroy anything electrical or electronic as well, including cars, lights, and portable generators. diesel engines could still work, assuming you can get the glow plugs hot without electricity, but effectively there would be no transportation, which means people would begin starving within weeks (and help wouldn't be coming for years, btw), and when people starve violence begins to ensue very quickly. besides, if the solar flare were strong enough to penetrate earth and cause a global blackout (more likely it would only affect the sun-facing side of earth, but w/e), the radiation that came with it would melt our faces off anyway, not to mention blasting away our ozone layer, which would make all of earth unlivable for a couple hundred years. but neglecting the radiation from the solar flare, which would would make a complete nuclear reactor meltdown look like a camp fire, the rioting, looting, pillaging and starvation would kill the vast majority of people within months.


But that doesn't solve the really big problem, which is that you've got 700 nuclear reactors that can't feed power into the grid (because all the transformers are blown up) and yet simultaneously have to be fed a steady stream of emergency fuels to run the generators the keep the coolant pumps functioning.

How long does the coolant need to circulate in these facilities to cool the nuclear fuel? Months. This is also the lesson of Fukushima: You can't cool nuclear fuel in mere hours or days. It takes months to bring these nuclear facilities to a state of cold shutdown.


aside from having bigger problems than a few nuclear meltdowns as I've shown, I'm guessing that nuclear reactors are all EMP hardened (considering how simple it would be for terrorists to construct EMP weapons because they aren't really that complicated). you wouldn't be able to feed the grid, but you could use the generated power to power the coolant pumps, but it wouldn't matter anyway because the plant would just go into shutdown. they would drop the control rods and enact SCRAM procedures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scram), and since the reactor wasn't in meltdown to begin with it would go down very quickly, then you would just need to dissipate the remaining heat.

why didn't they just do that at Fukishima? they were trying to save the nuclear reactor (those things are expensive), which is why decisions like that shouldn't be in the hands of the private sector.


Apparently, the current solar flares are causing a geomagnetic storm that has knocked, at least one, satellite from orbit. and it's also responsible for a lot of beautiful auroras as well.


yeah well, satellites get knocked out by space junk all the time, which makes sense because there are thousands of them floating around up there. one satellite isn't a big deal, unless you're the guy that has to pay for another one.

#3 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 02:59 AM

The author mentioned all those other problems you brought up and agrees that those, potentially, are big problems as well.

From The National Academies Press 'about' page:

The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academies to publish the reports issued by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, all operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and health, capturing the most authoritative views on important issues in science and health policy. The institutions represented by the NAP are unique in that they attract the nation’s leading experts in every field to serve on their award-wining panels and committees. The nation turns to the work of NAP for definitive information on everything from space science to animal nutrition.


Also, from their website:

Severe space weather has the potential to pose serious threats to the future North American electric power grid.2 Recently, Metatech Corporation carried out a study under the auspices of the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission and also for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to examine the potential impacts of severe geomagnetic storm events on the U.S. electric power grid. These assessments indicate that severe geomagnetic storms pose a risk for long-term outages to major portions of the North American grid. John Kappenman remarked that the analysis shows “not only the potential for large-scale blackouts but, more troubling, … the potential for permanent damage that could lead to extraordinarily long restoration times.” While a severe storm is a low-frequency-of-occurrence event, it has the potential for long-duration catastrophic impacts to the power grid and its users.


And this:

For large storms (or increasing dB/dt levels) both observations and simulations indicate that as the intensity of the disturbance increases, the relative levels of GICs and related power system impacts will also increase proportionately. Under these scenarios, the scale and speed of problems that could occur on exposed power grids have the potential to impact power system operators in ways they have not previously experienced. Therefore, as storm environments reach higher intensity levels, it becomes more likely that these events will precipitate widespread blackouts in exposed power grid infrastructures. The possible extent of a power system collapse from a 4800 nT/min geomagnetic storm (centered at 50° geomagnetic latitude) is shown in Figure 7.1. Such dB/dt levels—10 times those experienced during the March 1989 storm—were reached during the great magnetic storm of May 14-15, 1921. The least understood aspect of this threat is the permanent damage to power grid assets and how that will impede the restoration process. Transformer damage is the most likely outcome, although other key assets on the grid are also at risk. In particular, transformers experience excessive levels of internal heating brought on by stray flux when GICs cause a transformer’s magnetic core to saturate and to spill flux outside the normal core steel magnetic circuit. Kappenman stated that previous well-documented cases have involved heating failures that caused melting and burn-through of large-amperage copper windings and leads in these transformers.


http://www.nap.edu/o...d=12507&page=77
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#4 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 03:25 AM

And you are correct there are closer to 440 nuclear reactors. How many nuclear reactor failures would be acceptable out of that? 200? 150? 50? 10? Just stop me when we hit an acceptable number.

Do you trust shutdown procedures in place in Pakistan and other 3rd world countries?

I don't think you've proven that there would be bigger problems than multiple nuclear meltdowns at all. Riots, starvation, entire cities burning down and their populations perishing would be nothing compared to what could happen if a Chernobyl style meltdown, happened in a major population center. Sure those things are horrible, but multiple meltdowns would be the cherry on top of that disaster sundae.

By the way, just because you don't live near a nuclear power plant doesn't mean they are as mythical as unicorns. I live well within 50 miles of San Onofre power plant. As do about another 7.4 million people.

Look the point isn't to panic or get excited about this. It's just to raise awareness of the things that could possibly go wrong.

Nice guess about the EMP protection. I wonder if it's true. I hope it is.

why didn't they just do that at Fukishima? they were trying to save the nuclear reactor (those things are expensive), which is why decisions like that shouldn't be in the hands of the private sector.


Now that's an interesting assertion. I hadn't heard that one. Got a source?
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#5 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 03:36 AM

Sorry, but, it looks like you are wrong about cooling down a nuclear power plant. The reaction can be stopped fairly quickly but if the cooling process isn't continued then you get a meltdown.

From an "Ask an Expert" article at SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN:

How long does it take to cool down a reactor?
There are design specific variables there. The easiest way to answer that question is that NRC regulatory requirements for emergency power supplies is that they be available on the order of a month. You can render a plant in an acceptable condition within a few hours. However, heat is still being generated. If you had to stop, at any point, carrying away that heat, it would start building up again. Emergency cooling systems have to be available for weeks.


Also, according to this article nuclear power plants aren't built to power themselves. So, there goes that idea.

http://www.scientifi...nuclear-reactor
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#6 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 03:42 AM

A solar flare that could knock out power probably won't destroy the ozone or melt away our faces either.

Although, I really wish you were right on this one.

http://www.newscient...rths-ozone.html
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#7 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 05:50 AM

Finally. You use the word "implausible". I'm not sure that word means what you think it means.

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#8 knob macabre

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 08:34 AM

bonus points to whoever tl;dr this.

A solar flare that could knock out power probably won't destroy the ozone or melt away our faces either.

Although, I really wish you were right on this one.

...

Finally. You use the word "implausible". I'm not sure that word means what you think it means.


I have no doubt, but I was referring to the literal situation your excerpt suggested, meaning a solar flare large enough to knock out power for the entire planet, not just the sun-facing side. to do that it would have to penetrate the earth's core, which is mostly iron, saturate it completely, and spill out onto the other side. my point was simply that acting like this would be a global occurrence is wildly misinformed, and that you're trusting someone for information who clearly has no grounding and who clearly has an agenda.

my "implausible" statement was about the whole-world blackout. and I know what the word means, please try to keep the condescension to a minimal.

And you are correct there are closer to 440 nuclear reactors. How many nuclear reactor failures would be acceptable out of that? 200? 150? 50? 10? Just stop me when we hit an acceptable number.


and you're assuming that a simple power failure would lead directly to a meltdown, or that all failures of a nuclear plant is dangerous. dangerous meltdowns happen when the nuclear reaction gets out of control and the fuel melts through its containment and then through the plant itself (this is what happened at chernobyl, but not fukushima). even if a core melts down, that is the worst case scenario and is pretty rare. but it has to be in a meltdown situation for even that to be possible. even if they aren't able to cool it the entire time until the heat dissipates, the containment will fail and some heat will escape, probably be a hydrogen explosion. it might kill some plant workers, maybe starts a wildfire. then it's over. as long as the plant was built to spec, to contain the radiation, then not very much radiation will leak out, mostly from the explosion.


Do you trust shutdown procedures in place in Pakistan and other 3rd world countries?


I trust the procedure sure, what I wouldn't trust is whether they built the plant to spec, as was the case in chernobyl. but since your agenda is obviously to discourage the use of nuclear power in america anyway, it doesn't really matter what we think about pakistan. unless you're suggesting we invade pakistan so we can shut off their mismanaged power plants?

I don't think you've proven that there would be bigger problems than multiple nuclear meltdowns at all. Riots, starvation, entire cities burning down and their populations perishing would be nothing compared to what could happen if a Chernobyl style meltdown, happened in a major population center. Sure those things are horrible, but multiple meltdowns would be the cherry on top of that disaster sundae.

By the way, just because you don't live near a nuclear power plant doesn't mean they are as mythical as unicorns. I live well within 50 miles of San Onofre power plant. As do about another 7.4 million people.


you fucking kidding me? so you think entire cities killing themselves in panic is better than maybe getting cancer in a few years? see how badly this problem has been blown out of proportion, when you view a single meltdown as an apocalypse, but the breakdown of all civilization is just "horrible"?

you live 50 miles from a possible source of radiation that will mostly be contained, and you live I'm guessing 0 miles from millions of stupid, panicky, starving, desperate people with guns. you really need to check your threat assessment.


Nice guess about the EMP protection. I wonder if it's true. I hope it is.


I'd say an educated guess, being as how even I (who has an intermediate at absolute best understanding of electrical engineering) could build a simple EMP assuming I could get my hands on some quality plastic explosive. for a defense budget as large as america's we could afford to EMP harden fucking everything. then again we spend billions on wars that don't make us safer and security measures that are pure posturing, ineffectual bullshit so maybe I'm wrong.

Also, according to this article nuclear power plants aren't built to power themselves.


how are they powered then in their normal operation, by another power plant? seems kinda dumb. so they really can't just divert some of the energy being generated by the turbine to power their cooling and control circuitry, with multiple backups built in? seems like a major design oversight. but look, as long as you can kill the nuclear reaction and cool it enough so that that worst-case-scenario of the core melting through all containment and the reaction running away, which is pretty rare even when absolutely everything goes wrong, then your doomsday doesn't happen.

Now that's an interesting assertion. I hadn't heard that one. Got a source?


you know what, I heard that somewhere and it was wrong. what happened at fukushima was basically everything went wrong at once, and even then it wasn't nearly as bad as people think (see here).

but yeah, I heard a statement somewhere from someone who seemed trustworthy that confirmed my bias, so I accepted it. which leads me to my next point...

Look the point isn't to panic or get excited about this. It's just to raise awareness of the things that could possibly go wrong.


right, but when you post stuff like this unsolicited it reminds me of people who talk fearfully about anything "nuclear" and make statements from ignorance to support their purely emotional view. remember the media frenzy right when they were starting to have problems at fukushima, then for a while while some things were breaking down, then most of the stories suddenly stopped? wonder why that is? the press loves to sensationalize, and that first article you linked was sensational and highly hypothetical (not to mention displaying the author's ignorance of general science). listening to most press talk about issues of science is about like when they talk about computer hacking, or when my father talks about terrorists. I cringe listening to so much of it that I pretty much just ignore it now, unless a specific source seems credible. I am a little lazy about vetting sources, and most people don't even try,so I just don't listen to it anymore because it won't change my mind about what policies should be done in the future. more on that later.

look, there are many sources of information, and the vast majority have some sort of bias or underlying objective. if you want to prove something you can always find things to confirm your bias. to be honest I don't think either one of us wants to be convinced, which is why I hate getting into these kinds of arguments. let me just state my position so we're clear: nuclear power carries some danger, but so does most technology worth a damn in its early inception. if properly implemented and carefully controlled, it could be made safe enough for widescale use, and I think we approach that very closely, but accidents will still happen. being mindlessly fearful of it because of a few pictures of atomic flashes and some very unfortunate accidents, and opposing anything that has the word "nuclear" or "atomic" in it unilaterally and without real thought, is what most people that oppose it seem to do. I know that you'll rebut everything I said here, and that's fine, but I'd like this one question answered: do you think nuclear fission power could ever be made safe, EVER? your answer may include caveats about impracticality, if that helps. if you say yes, then our difference of opinion is merely one of time and technology (or perhaps policy). if you say no, then I'm afraid that your opposition seems entirely irrational, and no further discussion would be worthwhile for either of us.

point of interest, I no longer believe building new nuclear plants in America is practical, for various political and economic reasons, so I'm not even going to try to convince you of that. just please stop linking stories from uninformed journalists trying to drum up some shit, I really hate reading that crap.

EDIT: just looked at the music thread and lol'd. you find that during your fantastic google voyage? :)

#9 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 09:26 AM

Actually, I was trying to figure out if there was a way to shield them from this because it seems like something that should be defended against because I don't think there is any way the existing ones will be shut down and, unlike you, I expect more to get built.

It's okay. I wasn't looking to start to start an argument with you on the first post. I came off as defensive in my responses because you started yours with an "ugh" and then called the article sensationalistic, sad, uninformed, and dumb. The implication seemed to be that I was sensationalistic, sad, uninformed, and dumb by extension.

Also, I don't believe that all evidence is equal and judging by your original post, you don't really think that either.

I've obviously pressed a button here.

I'll stop now.
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#10 sa1ty

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 05:21 PM

this might point ya in a direction tram

http://standeyo.com/...protection.html
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#11 knob macabre

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 05:35 PM

lol so now I'm the jerk. I assumed because of our previous arguments on this, that this topic was you trying to start something up again. the "ugh" was about me being drawn into an argument, as much as it was about the article. sorry for attacking you and killed your topic.

even if I think those things about the article I don't think them about you. I think something like this is what happened in your article, that it started out as an interesting inquiry and then got journalized. it annoys me when this happens to technical subjects, and it pisses me off when it's something with political or social impact (when I catch it). but in truth I'm probably about as gullible as everyone else when it comes to trusting "experts", so I don't think I'm any better than you. sorry if I came on a little strong/crazy/paranoid.

if you wanna just nix the argument and turn this into a conversation about nuclear plant security or EMP I'm all for it. I really don't like arguing, I always feel like and asshole afterwards.

#12 trammel

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 05:44 PM

@Salty: Thank you.

@knob: Honestly, i can't recall ever getting into an argument with you. The only thing i think of when i think of you is how helpful you've been with the electronics info., which is why i was so taken aback. It's okay. I understand now and don't hold any hard feelings against you.
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#13 trammel

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 09:19 PM

footnote:

This morning there was a gigantic boom that woke everybody up except for me. A nearby transformer blew and caused a black-out. Only our little tiny patch of steel boxes was affected. It's all good though, I walked across the street and bought a cup of coffee, by the time I got back it was back on again.
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#14 trammel

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 01:44 AM

Comets hit the sun on an almost daily basis but, this one was much bigger than most and the resultant explosion has caused an X-class flare.


A clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms burst out through the corona into space lighting it up like a Catherine Wheel.
Scientists expect the cloud - which could disrupt long-range radio communications - to arrive at Earth in the next few days.

The video was released only briefly by Soho, the European Space Agency's orbiting Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.

Solar physicists videoed the event and posted it on the internet for all the world to see - then whipped it off minutes later.



http://www.dailymail...ring-flare.html
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#15 trammel

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 12:03 AM

"A huge solar flare erupted Monday, triggering the strongest radiation storm in nearly a decade. A wave of charged particles, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), bombarded Earth Tuesday. The bombardment is over now, but some minor disruptions to spacecraft and power grids were reported."

http://www.msnbc.msn..._science-space/

In other news, I got to hang out with the keyboardist of My Morning Jacket just now.

So suck it.
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#16 sa1ty

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Posted 27 January 2012 - 01:55 PM

it was interesting to read that aircraft were being rerouted because of the solar flare. and i think it shifted the aurora's further south for that evening?
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#17 trammel

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 05:02 PM

"Much of India's electricity supply network collapsed Tuesday in the country's second major outage in two days, affecting more than 680 million people—double the population of the U.S.—and causing business losses estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars."

http://online.wsj.co...3178678898.html
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