Hat Tip: ZeroHedge for the NBC story
Sustained power outages to national or regional grids have the potential for catastrophic consequences. Among the most likely scenarios for sustained power outages include cyber-hacks and solar flares. Both of these scenarios are "black swan" type events whose likelihoods may be under-estimated. The risk of cyber-attacks seem to rise daily with the escalation of international tensions by saber-rattling politicians.
NBC is reporting that the CIA is prepping for a possible cyber strike against Russia:
William M. Arkin, Ken Dilanian and Robert Windrem. 2016, October 14. CIA Prepping for Possible Cyber Strike Against Russia. NBC News, http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/cia-prepping-possible-cyber-strike-against-russia-n666636I've read many times that the Russian and Chinese infrastructures are less vulnerable to cyber-strikes than the US's because they are less integrated with the Internet. The US is more vulnerable because its infrastructures are more closely coupled with digital technology, even legacy systems that have been updated with computerized controls.
The Obama administration is contemplating an unprecedented cyber covert action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election, U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News. Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the situation say the CIA has been asked to deliver options to the White House for a wide-ranging "clandestine" cyber operation designed to harass and "embarrass" the Kremlin leadership. The sources did not elaborate on the exact measures the CIA was considering, but said the agency had already begun opening cyber doors, selecting targets and making other preparations for an operation.
It is in this context of heightened risks for cybersecurity that I read President Obama's recent executive order aimed at preparing the nation for space weather events, which you will see excerpts from below.
I wondered whether these preparations against a solar flare might simultaneously represent planning for a coordinated cyber-attack against the US grid?
A Carrington type space-weather event could have catastrophic effects on our national grid, effects quite similar to a coordinated cyber-attack on the grid.
See NASA discussion here of the consequences of a super solar flare:
A Super Solar Flare. 2008. NASA, https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2008/06may_carringtonflare/There is considerable concern that a sustained power-outage would cause significant problems for nuclear power plants. Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission contends that they have this situation covered (see here ) but in the wake of the Fukushima disaster we learned that the generators at NPPs everywhere are not always operational and have limited fuel on hand.
The US NRC also states (see here ) that it has plans in place to keep spent fuel pools cool in the wake of a sustained electrical outage but many people are not convinced that their measures are adequate or that there are adequate measures available to confront the problems of hot nuclear waste in the wake of a sustained power outage.
In the video at this link, nuclear engineers Mr Arnie Gunderson and David Lochbaum discuss how vulnerable nuclear power plants are to electrical disruptions. Their analysis even addresses the many vulnerabilities of the "back-up" generators http://fairewinds.com/content/why-fukushima-can-happen-here-what-nrc-and-nuclear-industry-dont-want-you-know
A sustained power outage, whether caused by cyber-attack or solar flare, could lead to spent fuel pool fires with unprecedented health and environmental consequences.
Obama's executive order implicitly acknowledges our vulnerability in policy but in practice will likely do little to target the source of our vulnerability, the catastrophic risk intrinsic to a form of energy that escapes human control and produces genotoxic effluents.
Here is the order:
Executive Order -- Coordinating Efforts to Prepare the Nation for Space Weather Events
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COORDINATING EFFORTS TO PREPARE THE NATION FOR SPACE WEATHER EVENTS
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and to prepare the Nation for space weather events, it is hereby ordered as follows:
Section 1. Policy. Space weather events, in the form of solar flares, solar energetic particles, and geomagnetic disturbances, occur regularly, some with measurable effects on critical infrastructure systems and technologies, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite operations and communication, aviation, and the electrical power grid. Extreme space weather events -- those that could significantly degrade critical infrastructure -- could disable large portions of the electrical power grid, resulting in cascading failures that would affect key services such as water supply, healthcare, and transportation.
Space weather has the potential to simultaneously affect and disrupt health and safety across entire continents. Successfully preparing for space weather events is an all-of-nation endeavor that requires partnerships across governments, emergency managers, academia, the media, the insurance industry, non-profits, and the private sector.
…..Sec. 5. Implementation. (a) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall develop a plan to test and evaluate available devices that mitigate the effects of geomagnetic disturbances on the electrical power grid through the development of a pilot program that deploys such devices, in situ, in the electrical power grid. After the development of the plan, the Secretary shall implement the plan in collaboration with industry. In taking action pursuant to this subsection, the Secretaries of Energy and Homeland Security shall consult with the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.Preparations for apocalypse are doomed to failure when catastrophic risks are structurally embedded in our infrastructures.
(b) Within 120 days of the date of this order, the heads of the sector-specific agencies that oversee the lifeline critical infrastructure functions as defined by the National Infrastructure Protection Plan of 2013 -- including communications, energy, transportation, and water and wastewater systems -- as well as the Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector, shall assess their executive and statutory authority, and limits of that authority, to direct, suspend, or control critical infrastructure operations, functions, and services before, during, and after a space weather event. The heads of each sector-specific agency shall provide a summary of these assessments to the Subcommittee.
The wrecked and highly radioactive Fukushima Daiichi NPP stands as testament to this fact, as these images of Fukushima's enhanced glow in the morning sun illustrate (screenshots taken yesterday 5:46 October 16, 2016 Japan Time):
The radiation readings in Japan have been quite elevated around Tokyo and on the island of Kyush over the last few days according to Netc. I'm not sure whether Fukushima is the source as nuclear effluents are contaminating the world from many source points.