THE SOLAR "KATRINA" STORM THAT COULD TAKE OUT THE POWER GRID
John Kappenman, 55, an obscure electrical engineer from Duluth, Minnesota, is determined to save civilization from the mother of all blackouts. If he succeeds, the daily life of billions around the world will continue undisrupted. But if he fails, we may well suffer on a scale that makes even World Wars seem trivial in comparison.
Over the past thirty years, Kappenman has accumulated a vast and compelling body of evidence indicating that sooner or later a major blast of EMP (electromagnetic pulse) from the Sun, a space weather Katrina, will knock out the electrical power grid and bring society to its knees.
"Historically large storms have a potential to cause power grid blackouts and transformer damage of unprecedented proportions. An event that could incapacitate the network for a long time could be one of the largest natural disasters we could face," he declares. A bluff, friendly man, half science nerd, half overgrown farm boy, Kappenman insists that solar EMP blasts the size of those that occurred in 1859 (before society was electrified) and 1921(before the power grid had developed to the point where it played any significant role) would today result in large-scale blackouts lasting for months or years.
Kappenman was a major contributor to the landmark report, Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts, published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in December, 2008. Founded by Abraham Lincoln during the height of the Civil War, the NAS is the closest thing there is to a Supreme Court of scientific opinion for the United States, and much of the rest of the world.
"Electric power is modern society's cornerstone technology, the technology on which virtually all other infrastructures and services depend... Collateral effects of a longer-term outage [such as would almost certainly result from a massive space weather event] would likely include, for example, disruption of the transportation, communication, banking, and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of the distribution of potable water owing to pump failure and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of lack of refrigeration. The resulting loss of services for a significant period of time in even one region of the country could affect the entire nation and have international impact as well," says the NAS report.
As examined extensively in my book, AFTERMATH, (Broadway/Random House, July, 2010) more than 100 million Americans could be affected by this blackout for months or years. Recovering from a future severe magnetic storm would cost $1 to $2 trillion per year-- ten to twenty times the cost of Katrina. Of course, the damage would be immeasurably worse if such a massive, protracted catastrophe were to touch off social unrest sufficient to undermine the agencies and institutions in charge of the reconstruction effort.
Unlike most doom prophecies, this one has potential for a happy ending. As examined further on, there is a comparatively quick and economical way to defend against solar EMP. " Sunblock for the grid" recommendations are at the core of the GRID bill, HR-5026, passed UNANIMOUSLY by the U.S. House of Representatives this June. No mean feat in today's poisonously partisan climate. But the true day of reckoning will probably come later on this summer in the United States Senate, where things are not