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Thursday, May 3, 2012

I’m 62 years old and live in the suburbs of a large town in Georgia (not Atlanta).  I think of myself as an intermediate prepper.  I’ve studied a lot and have plans in place for myself and my family should events turn sour.  I’ve got all the survival manuals in place and have prepared to defend my family should the worst happen.  My family is prepped and ready to go.  Though I’ve not bought much in the way of food stuff, I have all the hardware and I know where to get the food stuff on short order.  I keep an adequate supply of cash on hand.

I already know that unless there is a direct threat to my family or my home I will not be bugging out irrespective of what may happen.  Neither my or my wife’s health will support a bug out on foot.  However we do have bug-out bags ready just in case we should have to leave.  We live in a community of like-minded individuals.  My home is well prepped and a supply of water and other essentials is nearby.

I have a backup location (second home about 80 miles away) that I can go to if there is a direct threat to my family or my home.  I have the capability to load my gear and supplies and make my way there without traveling major road or towns.  My backup location is actually a better physical location (more remote, better water and game, better for gardening) for a long term event.  However I do not have the community support (like-minded neighbors) there that I have at my home.  My backup location is ready should I need it.

I am a mechanical engineer by education and a nuclear engineer by trade.  My principal function at work is overseeing the analysis of risk at nuclear and chemical facilities in the US and other industrialized countries.  This brings me to the point of what I want to discuss.

As we prepare to survive in the unknown world, a world where there are no support systems to keep us aware of what is going on outside our immediate neighborhood, we need to know a lot about what surrounds us.  As we enter into a situation where there are no utilities, everyone will be busy taking care of themselves and their families as they try to survive.  So who will be minding the industrial facilities around us?  My answer is no one.  Everyone will be minding their own retreats and families.  No one will be reporting to the nuclear and chemical facilities to make sure that they are in a safe and stable condition.

As we have become more and more industrialized, our industrial processes have become more complex.  We rely on computers and embedded processors to ensure that nuclear and chemical facilities are in a safe and stable condition.  Granted well trained employees are there to oversee the automated process and to take action if things do not go as programmed.  Without power to monitor and control the nuclear and chemical facilities and no one reporting to work to do the same, many of these facilities will become unstable over time.  Chemical or nuclear releases will become likely.

As I’ve made my plans one of the things that I have done is to take a map of my surrounding area and drawn a 50 mile ring around my house (this is true for both my home and backup location).  Within that ring I have identified the facilities that may pose a hazard to me and my family should the power and employees not be available to monitor and maintain stable conditions at the facilities that use or maintain inventories of hazardous materials.  This is not easy even for a trained professional.  It involves knowing the inventory of hazardous material stored at each facility and the effect that those materials may have on humans and the environment.  Learning the material and quantities is the hard part.  The hazards can be learned from Material Safety Data Sheets which can be found on the web.
As you may expect I was surprised at what I learned.  Even in a semi-rural area in Georgia, away for any large cities like Atlanta and in an area that we don’t typically think of as chemical ally, I found a very large number of facilities that use or process large quantities of chemical that are hazardous and / or deadly to humans and the environment.

A lot of the chemicals housed in these facilities are fairly stable while in storage without much attention needed.  But when left alone for prolonged periods of time, and in a post event period when looting and mischief may abound, they may not be contained and stable for the long term.
Another factor in my analysis is the weather and the prevailing winds.  Most of the facilities where the worst offending materials are located are to the south and east of me.  This is also true of my backup location.  That is good because where I live the prevailing winds tend to be from the west or southwest.  Seldom does the wind come directly from the south and almost never from the east.  I would hardly ever be in the direct path of a wind-blown release of material from one of these facilities.

An additional factor in my analysis was knowing when there may be a release of a hazardous material.  As I said before a lot of the chemicals housed in these facilities are fairly stable while in storage without much attention needed.  If we ignore for a minute the potential of a release due to mischief, then weather, time, and the properties of the material (corrosive, stability over time) come into play.  Harsh weather such as severe cold, heavy rains and flooding, and severe winds can lead to early failure of storage facilities.  The corrosiveness of a material may require constant stirring, cleaning, and maintenance.  Some materials may volatize and give of harmful or explosive vapors while remaining in there containers.  Some chemical are susceptible to becoming unstable when mixed with other chemicals or water.  Some chemicals and processes give off heat which may lead to the early failure of a container.  A lighting strike on a chemical or fuel container may lead to a fire or explosion which can involve other materials and produce toxic vapors and heavy smoke.

In addition to the chemical facilities, within my 50 mile ring are two nuclear facilities.  One is a nuclear power plant which is due south.  The other is a government facility which is southeast of me.  They are both close to the 50 mile ring.

The government facility is mostly shutdown. It is in the process of being decommissioned and closed, although some new, less threatening facilities are being used and constructed.  It houses large tanks of radioactive waste that self-heat and evolve hydrogen.  If left alone, the hydrogen will build up in the tanks.  An ignition source or lighting could cause a large explosion that would result in a significant release of radioactive material.  Because it is so far away and the prevailing winds are in my favor I don’t worry about this facility.

The nuclear power plant is somewhat different.  It is due south and sometimes the winds are from that direction.  If a slowly evolving event were to occur then the reactor cores would probably we off loaded and all of the nuclear fuel would be stored in the spent fuel pools.  Assuming all power is lost and the employee are minding their families then over time the heat generated by the spent fuel would boil off the cooling water and a release of radioactive material would occur.  This process would take weeks to develop.  Again, because of the distance and direction I am not concerned.

Due to both facilities being near the ring and the unknown factors (you can’t smell, taste or see radioactivity) I would not travel very far to the south or southeast of where I live after the SHTF.

My analysis has allowed me to understand that I am not at significant risk of a secondary chemical or radiological event.  Dealing with the new conditions that follow the SHTF event that took away our way of life will be difficult enough without the fear of these types of surprises.

Everyone who expects to survive a SHTF scenario needs to understand the secondary threats around them.  In addition to the issues of no utilities, non-friendlies looking for food and shelter, no health care or support, and an unknown future, we need to know that we will not be blind-sided by a chemical or nuclear release that we are not prepared for.

If you think you are ready but haven’t looked at the surrounding chemical and nuclear facilities then you are not fully prepared.  If you plan to hold up in an industrialized area you must know what the surrounding hazards are.

Take out a map of your retreat area and draw a 50 mile ring.  Go to Google Maps and look at the area particularly on the upwind side of you (look at the Weather Channel and you can understand where your prevailing winds are coming from).  If you find industrialized areas, find out what types of chemical and nuclear hazards are close by.  Make a determination of whether you want to be downwind of a release of these materials.  Bugging out after a chemical or radiological release envelopes you may be too late (remember Bhopal).  Good luck and God Bless.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

 I read in today’s SurvivalBlog, ”David in Israel on Coronal Mass Ejections.”  In it, David mentioned that “good grounding is always a good idea.”  That got me to thinking, as I had read in fairly authoritative reports that normal electrical grounding for EMP or CME, unless it is done in very specific and professional ways, is not a good idea for the average person unless he or she has specialized training and equipment.
I checked the references cited below, which covers the effects of both nuclear EMP and solar storms.  In the references below, one finds that of the three effects of a nuclear EMP burst, E1, E2, and E3, the third effect (E3) is the only one that can be similar in effect to a solar super storm.  The author thus includes protection for solar storms at the same level as the E3 effect of a nuclear EMP attack.  The discussion I think is worthy of study considering the recent news of solar activity.  (He discusses both EMP and solar events throughout the discussion, rather than separately.)
Mr. Emanuelson even mentions the use of galvanized trash cans as protection from EMP--which I have used for a year-or-so--for EMP protection. I do not ground them, but rather I store them resting on cardboard sheets on a concrete floor.  I have also been nesting other electronics gear in these cans as well as foil-wrapped shoe boxes, .50 cal ammo cans, fruit cake cans, etc. in the event of either EMP or CME.  But the author states emphatically that any Faraday cage, regardless of how elegant or primitive, is of no use, whatsoever, in protecting from a solar storm or nuclear E3 event. So I shall quit throwing my stuff in the cans when every solar storm comes up.  He does, however, recommend unplugging the cords from computers and other electronics devices at the “box” rather than at the wall, to reduce the “antenna effect.”   He gives a good rundown of some of the myths associated with these events, of which I admit that I’ve been a victim, in the last link, below.
While I have read pieces and parts of this as well source, as other sources --many of which conflict --  in the last year-or-so, only today have I taken the time to read all of this source, which is quite good, in my view.. Overall, a review of these references seems a good thing to do in light of the current solar activity
The links below are but a few among many on the site:  Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse, by Jerry Emanuelson, B.S.E.E., Futurescience, LLC, Colorado Springs, CO

Sincerely, - Two Dogs

Monday, February 6, 2012

There are nearly 450 nuclear reactors in the world, with hundreds more either under construction or in the planning stages. There are 104 of these reactors in the USA and 195 in Europe. Imagine what havoc it would wreak on our civilization and the planet’s ecosystems if we were to suddenly witness not just one or two nuclear melt-downs but 400 or more! How likely is it that our world might experience an event that could ultimately cause hundreds of reactors to fail and melt down at approximately the same time?  I venture to say that, unless we take significant protective measures, this apocalyptic scenario is not only possible but probable.

Consider the ongoing problems caused by three reactor core meltdowns, explosions, and breached containment vessels at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility, and the subsequent health and environmental issues. Consider the millions of innocent victims that have already died or continue to suffer from horrific radiation-related health problems (“Chernobyl AIDS”, epidemic cancers, chronic fatigue, etc) resulting from the Chernobyl reactor explosions, fires, and fallout. If just two serious nuclear disasters, spaced 25 years apart, could cause such horrendous environmental catastrophes,  it is hard to imagine how we could ever hope to recover from hundreds of similar nuclear incidents occurring simultaneously across the planet. Since more than one third of all Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, this is a serious issue that should be given top priority![1]

In the past 152 years, Earth has been struck roughly 100 solar storms causing significant geomagnetic disturbances (GMD), two of which were powerful enough to rank as “extreme GMDs”. If an extreme GMD of such magnitude were to occur today, in all likelihood it would initiate a chain of events leading to catastrophic failures at the vast majority of our world’s nuclear reactors, quite similar to the disasters at both Chernobyl and Fukushima, but multiplied over 100 times. When massive solar flares launch a huge mass of highly charged plasma (a coronal mass ejection, or CME) directly towards Earth, colliding with our planet’s outer atmosphere and magnetosphere, the result is a significant geomagnetic disturbance. 

Since an extreme GMD of such a potentially disruptive magnitude that it would collapse the grid across most of the US last occurred in May of 1921, long before the advent of  modern electronics, widespread electric power grids, and nuclear power plants, we are for the most part blissfully unaware of this threat and totally unprepared for its consequences. The good news is that there are some relatively affordable protective equipment and processes which could be installed to protect critical components in the electric power grid and its nuclear reactors, thereby protecting our civilization from this “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” scenario. The bad news is that, as of now, even though panels of scientists and engineers have studied the problem, and the bi-partisan congressional EMP commission has presented a list of specific recommendations to congress, our leaders have yet to approve and implement a single significant preventative measure!
Most of us believe something like this could never happen, and if it could, certainly our “authorities” would do everything in their power to make sure they would prevent such an Apocalypse from ever taking place. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. “How could this happen?” you might ask. “Is this truly possible?” Read and weep, for you will soon know the answer.

Nuclear Power Plants and the Electric Power Grid

Our global system of electrical power generation and distribution (“the grid”), upon which every facet of our modern life is utterly dependent, in its current form is extremely vulnerable to severe geomagnetic storms of a magnitude that tends to strike our planet on an average of approximately once every 70 to 100 years. We depend on this grid to maintain food production and distribution, telecommunications, Internet services, medical services, military defense, transportation, government, water treatment, sewage and garbage removal, refrigeration, oil refining and gas pumping, and to conduct all forms of commerce.
Unfortunately, the world’s nuclear power plants, as they are currently designed, are critically dependent upon maintaining connection to a functioning electrical grid, for all but relatively short periods of electrical blackouts, in order to keep their reactor cores continuously cooled so as to avoid catastrophic reactor core meltdowns and spent fuel rod storage pond fires.

If an extreme GMD were to cause widespread grid collapse (which it most certainly will), in as little as one or two hours after each nuclear reactor facility’s backup generators either fail to start, or run out of fuel, the reactor cores will start to melt down. After a few days without electricity to run the cooling system pumps, the water bath covering the spent fuel rods stored in “spent fuel ponds” will boil away, allowing the stored fuel rods to melt down and burn [2]. Since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) currently mandates that only one week’s supply of backup generator fuel needs to be stored at each reactor site, it is likely that after we witness the spectacular night-time celestial light show from the next extreme GMD we will have about one week in which to prepare ourselves for Armageddon.
To do nothing is to behave like ostriches with our heads in the sand, blindly believing that “everything will be okay,” as our world inexorably drifts towards the next naturally recurring, 100%  inevitable, super solar storm and resultant extreme GMD. The result of which in short order will end the industrialized world as we know it, incurring almost incalculable suffering, death, and environmental destruction on a scale not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

The  End of “The Grid” As We Know It

There are records from the 1850s to today of roughly one hundred significant geomagnetic solar storms, two of which in the last 25 years were strong enough to cause millions of dollars worth of damage to key components that keep our modern grid powered. In March of 1989, a severe solar storm induced powerful electric currents in grid wiring that fried a main power transformer in the HydroQuebec system, causing a cascading grid failure that knocked out power to 6 million customers for nine hours while also damaging similar transformers in New Jersey and the United Kingdom. More recently, in 2003 a solar storm of lesser intensity, but longer duration, caused a blackout in Sweden and induced powerful currents in the South African grid that severely damaged or destroyed fourteen of their major power transformers, impairing commerce and comfort over major portions of that country as they were forced to resort to massive rolling blackouts that dragged on for many months[3]. 

During the Great Geomagnetic Storm of May 14-15, 1921, brilliant aurora displays were reported in the Northern Hemisphere as far south as Mexico and Puerto Rico, and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Samoa[5]. This extreme GMD produced ground currents roughly ten times as strong as the 1989 Quebec incident. Just 62 years earlier, the great granddaddy of recorded GMDs, referred to as “The Carrington Event,” raged from August 28 to September 4, 1859. This extreme GMD induced currents so powerful that telegraph lines, towers, and stations caught on fire at a number of locations around the world. Best estimates are that the Carrington Event was approximately 50% stronger than the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1921[6]. Since we are headed into an active solar period, much like the one preceding the Carrington Event, scientists are concerned that conditions could be ripe for the next extreme GMD[7].

Prior to the advent of the microchip and modern extra-high-voltage (EHV) transformers (key grid components that were first introduced in the late 1960s), most electrical systems were relatively  robust and resistant to the effects of GMDs. Given the fact that a simple electrostatic spark can fry a microchip, and many thousands of miles of power lines act like giant antennas for capturing massive amounts of GMD spawned electromagnetic energy, the electrical systems of the modern world are far more vulnerable than their predecessors.

A growing number of scientists and engineers have become concerned about the vulnerability of both the grid and modern microelectronics to debilitating damage from severe electromagnetic disturbances. These could come either in the form of naturally occurring extreme GMDs, like what occurred during the 1921 and 1859 super solar storms, or an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) resulting from the deliberate detonation of a nuclear device at a high altitude above the earth.

The federal government recently sponsored a detailed scientific study to more fully understand the extent to which critical components of our national electrical power grid might be effected by either a naturally occurring GMD or a man-made EMP. Under the auspices of the EMP Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and reviewed in depth by the Oakridge National Laboratory and the National Academy of Sciences,  Metatech Corporation undertook extensive modeling and analysis of the potential effects of extreme geomagnetic storms upon the U.S. electrical power grid. They based their modeling upon a storm of intensity equal to the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1921. Metatech estimated that within the continental United States alone, these voltage and current spikes combined with harmonic anomalies would severely damage or destroy over 350 EHV power transformers critical to the functioning of the U.S. grid, and possibly well over 2000 EHV transformers worldwide.[8]

EHV transformers are custom designed for each installation and are made to order, weighing as much as 300 tons each, and costing well over US 1$ million each. Given the fact that there is currently a three year waiting list for a single EHV transformer (due to recent demand from China and India, the lead times have grown from one to three years), and that the total global manufacturing capacity is roughly 100 EHV transformers per year when the world’s manufacturing centers are functioning properly, you can begin to grasp the dire implications of this situation.

In addition to increasing total network size of the High Voltage Transmission Network, the network has grown in complexity with the introduction of higher-kilovolt rated lines that subsequently also tend to carry larger GIC (geomagnetically induced current) flows. (Grid size derived from data in the EHV Transmission Line Reference Book and the NERC Electricity Supply and Demand database; energy usage statistics from the US Department of Energy – Energy Information Administration.) [9]

The loss of thousands of EHV transformers worldwide would cause a catastrophic collapse of the grid, stretching across much of the industrialized world. It will take years at best for the industrialized world to put itself back together after such an event, especially considering the fact that most of the manufacturing centers that make this equipment will also be grappling with widespread grid failure.
Since the earth’s magnetic field tends to protect the tropical latitudes from the most damaging geomagnetic effects, with protection dropping as one travels closer to the poles, perhaps the infrastructure and manufacturing zones in places like Mexico, Malaysia, India, and Singapore will be spared. However, most of those countries probably also rely on goods and services imported from other parts of the world that would be crippled for many months (or years) in the event of  a an extreme GMD.

According to the various Metatech analyses, it is estimated that grid collapse will effect at least 130 million people in the United States alone. However, in a recent personal conversation, John Kappenman (author of the Metatech study) admitted that this estimate is probably grossly optimistic.[11] He noted that “killer trees” and other seemingly insignificant events have been attributed to being the tiny seeds that sprouted into giant multi-state blackouts. The massive Western States Blackout of August 10, 1996, apparently started when sagging power lines shorted against improperly pruned trees in Oregon during a triple-digit heat wave, cascading into a blackout that cut power to seven western states, parts of Baja, Mexico, and two Canadian provinces. Due to excessive loads from millions of air-conditioning units operating during the heat wave, the grid had been operating near peak capacity and the shorted lines threw it over the edge into cascading failure, affecting millions of customers[12].
A similar group of “killer trees” in the state of Ohio were apparently the root cause of the Great Northeastern Blackout of August 2003 that cut power to over 50 million people [13]. Kappenman also cited the recent September 2011 event where a utility technician flipped a switch to bypass a large series capacitor that was not working properly at a substation outside of Yuma Arizona, and for reasons not fully understood this caused a chain of events leading to  a massive cascading blackout that cut power to millions of customers in Arizona, California, and Mexico. This same blackout also caused two nuclear reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant to automatically shut down and go off line, which they are designed to do as a safety precaution in the event of a local grid failure. This exacerbated the situation by reducing the locally available generating capacity at the same time as utility workers were desperately trying to restore power to San Diego and other areas[14].

Our Nuclear “Achilles Heel”

Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. I challenge chief scientist John Beddington and environmentalists like George Monbiot or any of the pundits now downplaying the risks of radiation to talk to the doctors, the scientists, the mothers, children and villagers who have been left with the consequences of a major nuclear accident. It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; fetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick. This was 20 years after the accident, but we heard of many unusual clusters of people with rare bone cancers…. Villages testified that ‘the Chernobyl necklace’—thyroid cancer—was so common as to be unremarkable.- John Vidal, “Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at Our Peril,” Guardian., April 1, 2011[15]

So what do extended grid blackouts have to do with potential nuclear catastrophes? Nuclear power plants are designed to disconnect automatically from the grid in the event of a local power failure or major grid anomaly, and once disconnected they begin the process of shutting down the reactor's core. In the event of the loss of coolant flow to an active nuclear reactor's core, the reactor will start to melt down and fail catastrophically within a matter of a few hours at most. In an extreme GMD, nearly every reactor in the world could be affected.

It was a short-term cooling system failure that caused the partial reactor core melt-down in March 1979 at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. Similarly, according to Japanese authorities it was not direct damage from Japan’s 9.0 magnitude Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011 that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor disaster, but the loss of electric power to the reactor’s cooling system pumps when the reactor’s backup batteries and diesel generators were wiped out by the ensuing tidal waves. In the hours and days after the tidal waves shuttered the cooling systems, the cores of reactors number 1, 2, and 3 were in full meltdown and released hydrogen gas, fueling explosions which breached several reactor containment vessels and blew the roof off the building housing the spent fuel storage pond of reactor number 4.
Of even greater danger and concern than the reactor cores themselves are the spent fuel rods stored in on-site cooling ponds. Lacking a permanent spent nuclear fuel storage facility, so-called “temporary” nuclear fuel containment ponds are features common to nearly all nuclear reactor facilities. They typically contain the accumulated spent fuel from 10 or more decommissioned reactor cores. Due to lack of a permanent repository, most of these fuel containment ponds are greatly overloaded and tightly packed beyond original design. They are generally surrounded by common light industrial buildings, with concrete walls and corrugated steel roofs. Unlike the active reactor cores, which are encased inside massive “containment vessels” with thick walls of concrete and steel, the buildings surrounding spent fuel rod storage ponds would do practically nothing to contain radioactive contaminants in the event of prolonged cooling system failures. 

Since spent fuel ponds typically hold far greater quantities of highly radioactive material then the active nuclear reactors locked inside reinforced containment vessels, they clearly present far greater potential  for the catastrophic spread of highly radioactive contaminants over huge swaths of land, polluting the environment for multiple generations spanning hundreds of years. A study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that the “boil down time” for  spent fuel rod containment ponds runs from between 4 and 22 days after loss of cooling system power before degenerating into a Fukushima-like situation, depending upon the type of nuclear reactor and how recently its latest batch of fuel rods had been decommissioned[16].

Reactor fuel rods have a protective zirconium cladding, which if superheated while exposed to air will burn with intense self-generating heat, much like a magnesium fire, releasing highly radioactive aerosols and smoke. According to Arnie Gundersen, former Senior Vice President for Nuclear Engineering Services Corporation, now turned nuclear whistle-blower, once a zirconium fire has started, due to its extreme temperatures and high degree of reactivity, contact with water will result in the water dissociating into hydrogen and oxygen gases, which will almost certainly lead to violent explosions. Gundersen says that once a zirconium fuel rod fire has started, the worst thing you could do is to try to quench the fire with water streams, since this action will only make matters worse and lead to violent explosions. Gundersen believes the massive explosion that blew the roof off the spent fuel pond at Fukushima was caused by zirconium induced hydrogen dissociation[16].

A few days after the tidal waves destroyed the generators providing back-up electrical power to Fukushima Daiichi's cooling system, the protective water bath boiled away from the spent fuel pond for reactor no. 4, leaving the stored spent fuel rods partially exposed to the air. Had it not been for heroic efforts on the part of Japan’s nuclear workers to replenish water in this spent fuel pool, these spent rods would have melted down and their zirconium cladding would have ignited, which most likely would have released far more radioactive contamination than what came from the three reactor core meltdowns.

Japanese officials estimate that, to date, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has released just over half of the total radioactive contamination released from Chernobyl, but other sources suggest that the radiation released could be significantly more. In the event of an extreme GMD-induced long-term grid collapse covering much of the globe, if just half of the world's spent fuel ponds boil off their water and become radioactive zirconium-fed infernos, the ensuing contamination will far exceed the cumulative effect of 400 Chernobyls.

Most of us tend to believe that a nuclear reactor is something that can be shut down in short order, like some massive piece of  machinery that can be turned off  by simply flipping a switch, or by performing a series of operations in a prescribed manner over a relatively short time, such as a few hours or perhaps a day or two. In spite of my MIT education (BSME, MIT, 1978), until recently I too was under the spell of this comforting delusion, which is far from the truth. You see, the trillions of chain reactions going on inside a nuclear reactor’s core continuously produce such incredible amounts of energy that a single nuclear power plant can generate more electricity than is required to power a good sized city. Unfortunately, these reactions do not simply “cease fire” at the flip of a switch. In general, it takes 5 to 7 days to slow down a reactor core’s nuclear chain reactions to the point where the core may be removed from the reactor.

After removal, the fuel rods are quite “hot”, both from the perspective of temperature and radioactivity. For the next 3 to 5 years these fuel rods must be immersed under roughly 20 feet of  continuously cooled water, both to shield the surrounding area from radioactivity, as well as to prevent catastrophic melt-down from occurring. According to Gundersen, after slowing down the chain reactions inside the reactor cores at Fukushima for a full eight months, the fuel rods would start melting down again if coolant flow was suspended for just 38 hours.

Gundersen explained that, essentially all modern nuclear reactors are designed with banks of "fuel rods", which contain highly radioactive materials, combined with banks of "control rods", which mesh between the fuel rods like the interwoven fingers of your right and left hands. It is the degree of interweave that moderates and controls the rate of nuclear chain reactions. He further explained that in the event of a significant loss of reactor control, reactors are designed for a "fail-safe" process to occur, where the control rods automatically fall into the fully meshed position with respect to the fuel rods, resulting in maximal slowing of the core's nuclear reactions and beginning the process of shutting down the reactor.

Typically, this action rapidly reduces the power produced by these chain reactions by a factor of 20:1 (to 5.0 per cent of full power), but that still leaves thousands of horsepower worth of waste heat that must be removed if the reactor core is not to rapidly overheat and fail catastrophically. After a day of leaving the control rods in the fully interwoven position, this reaction slows to 1.0 per cent, and after a week it will be about 0.1 per cent of full power. Once the reactions in the fuel rods slow to the point where the rods may be removed from the reactor, the spent fuel rods must be cooled inside containment ponds for 3–5 more years before the nuclear reactions decay to a point where the rods can be moved to specially designed air-cooled storage banks.

As mentioned previously, nuclear power plants are only required to store enough backup fuel reserves on-site to keep their backup diesel generators running for a period of one week. The NRC has always operated from the assumption that extended grid “blackouts” would not last for periods of more than a few days. The government has promised that, in the event of a major catastrophe such as a Hurricane Katrina, diesel trucks will show up like clockwork at all troubled nuclear facilities until local grid-supplied electrical power services have been re-established. Unfortunately, governments and regulators have not considered the possibility that the next extreme GMD  which Mother Nature unleashes upon Earth will quite likely disrupt grid services over much of the industrial world for a period of years, not just days. The chances that the world’s nuclear reactors will receive weekly deliveries of diesel fuel under such chaotic circumstances are practically zero. In a world suffering from loss of fuel and electric power, if any such deliveries were attempted those fuel tankers would be prime targets for armed hijackers.

Had it not been for heroic efforts on the part of Japan’s nuclear workers to replenish waters in the spent fuel pool at Fukushima, those spent fuel rods would have melted down and ignited their zirconium cladding, which most likely would have released far more radioactive contamination than what came from the three reactor core melt-downs. Japanese officials have estimate that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster has already released into the local environment just over half the total radioactive contamination as was released by Chernobyl, but other sources estimate it could be significantly more than was released by the accident at Chernobyl. In the event that an extreme GMD induced long-term grid collapse covering much of the globe, if just half of the world’s spent fuel ponds were to boil off their water and become radioactive zirconium fed infernos, the ensuing contamination could far exceed the cumulative effect of 400 Chernobyls.

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack

Many of the control systems we considered achieved optimal connectivity through Ethernet cabling. EMP coupling of electrical transients to the cables proved to be an important vulnerability during threat illumination…. The testing and analysis indicate that the electronics could be expected to see roughly 100 to 700 ampere current transients on typical Ethernet cables. Effects noted in EMP testing occurred at the lower end of this scale. The bottom line observation at the end of the testing was that every system failed when exposed to the simulated EMP environment. - Report of the Commission to Asses the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack[18]

Electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) and solar super storms are two different, but related, categories of events that are often described as high-impact, low  frequency (HILF) events. Events categorized as HILF don’t happen very often, but if and when they do they have the potential to severely affect the lives of many millions of people. Think of an EMP as a super-powerful radio wave capable of inducing damaging voltage spikes in electrical wires and electronic devices across vast geographical areas. What is generally referred to as an EMP strike is the deliberate detonation of a nuclear device at a high altitude, roughly defined as somewhere between 24 and 240 miles (40 and 400 kilometers) above the surface of the earth. Nuclear detonations of this type have the potential to cause serious damage to electronics and electrical power grids along their line of sight, covering huge distances on the order of a circular area 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter, which would correspond to an area stretching roughly from Quebec City in Canada down to Dallas, Texas and reaching almost as far south as Miami, Florida. The geomagnetic effects of extreme solar storms are sometimes also described as a “natural EMP”.[19]

The concern is that some rogue state or terrorist organization might build their own nuclear device from scratch or buy one illegally, procure a Scud missile (or similar) on the black market and launch their nuclear device from a large fishing boat or freighter somewhere off the coast of the US, causing grid collapse and widespread damage to electronic devices across roughly 50% of America. Much like an extreme GMD, a powerful EMP attack would also cause widespread grid collapse, but it would be limited to a much smaller geographical area.

A powerful  EMP  from a sub-orbital nuclear detonation would cause extreme electromagnetic effects, starting with an initial short duration “speed of light” pulse, referred to as an “E1” effect, followed by a middle duration pulse called an “E2” effect, which is followed by a longer duration disturbance known as an “E3” effect. The “E1” effect lasts on the order of a few nanoseconds, and is quite similar to massive electrostatic discharges, much like the sparks that surge from an extended fingertip after rubbing your feet on the carpet on a cold clear winter’s day, except they would surge through the hearts of electronic equipment distributed over a vast geographic area. These types of electrostatic spark discharges are particularly damaging to digital microelectronic chips  that are at the core of most modern electronic equipment.

The intermediate “E2” effects last a fraction of a second, and are similar to many thousands to millions of lightning strikes hitting over a widespread area at almost exactly the same time. Unfortunately, many of the devices designed to protect equipment from lightning damage, such as surge protectors, will be incapacitated by damage from the E1 pulse, leaving millions of electronic devices and systems susceptible to damage from the E2 effects.  

In the case of a nuclear induced EMP, its E3 effect starts after about a half second and may continue for several minutes. The E3 effect can be thought of as a “long slow burn”, and electromagnetically it is quite similar to the effects from an extreme GMD. The main difference between the E3 from an EMP and what occurs during an extreme GMD is that the EMP effect may continue for  a number of minutes, whereas the extreme GMD may continue for a number of hours or days. However, the magnitude of the induced magnetic field strengths from an EMP attack and an extreme GMD are about the same, with similar potential for causing severe damage to EHV transformers across the affected areas.

Inside the affected area, an EMP’s E3 effect would cause a similar degree of damage to the EHV transformers as that from an extreme GMD, but the E1 and E2 effects would cause far greater damage to electronic control systems than that from a GMD of similar intensity. Contrary to popular opinion, most personal electronic devices would probably survive with little or no damage, especially if they were not turned on at the moment of EMP, as would most automobiles. However, most complex electronic systems that contained digital microchips in combination with long runs of Ethernet cables (or other interconnecting cabling) which act like antennas for receiving EMP induced voltage spikes, would experience nearly 100% failure! [20]

A “successful” EMP attack launched against the US would most likely result in the immediate collapse of the grid across roughly 50% of the country, and crash the stock market. For the reasons discussed above, modern digital electronic control systems are highly susceptible to damage from EMP. These systems include programmable logic controllers (PLC), digital control systems (DCS),  and supervisory control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), all of which are absolutely critical for running factories, refineries, power plants, nuclear reactors, sewage plants, etc., as well as for diagnosing problems within those facilities and systems.
Bill Kaewert, President and CTO of Stored Energy Systems, LLC, a supplier of  backup power systems and components for mission-critical structures, such as Minuteman III missile silos, data centers, and critical corporate facilities, recently took part in a “Tabletop EMP” exercise hosted at the National Defense University. Dozens of the nation’s leading first responders, public safety experts, and military personnel took part in this exercise simulating a massive grid-down scenario typical of an EMP attack or an extreme GMD. According to Kaewert, even these highly trained personnel had a hard time grappling with the public safety implications of a disaster the size of fifty Hurricane Katrinas. It was also quite apparent that in an extended grid collapse a large number of emergency responders, military and government personnel would abandon their posts to protect their family and friends from the ensuing chaos[21].

In October of 1962, the Soviet Union conducted three above ground nuclear tests over Kazakhstan to study the effects of EMP. Due to its more northerly location, the EMP effects at the Kazakhstan test site were several times stronger than those observed during the more well-known “Starfish Prime” nuclear test, where the U.S. military detonated a 1.4 megaton nuclear device in July of 1962, 250 miles above Johnston Island, which is 900 miles south of Honolulu, HI. During the Soviet EMP tests, massive current spikes were induced in a 600 mile (1000 kilometer) long high-voltage power line that was buried six feet (two meters) underground. Massive induced currents caused a fire in the Karaganda power plant at the far end of the line, burning it to the ground. In anticipation of power outages caused by the EMP tests, the Russian military had pre-placed a backup diesel generators on site, but many of these generators were damaged by the EMP blast and would not start prior to being repaired. Located at great distances from the test site ground zero, several military radar units were also disabled by the EMP. Due to the use of solid-state devices containing microchips, today’s electrical devices are generally far less resistant to EMP damage than the devices in use during these EMP tests that took place back in the early 1960s. In today’s world, scientists predict that within the heavily affected area an EMP strike would cripple many backup power systems along with the vast majority of digital electronic control systems.

Since his deployment with the U.S. military in the early 1980s, Dr. George Baker has been involved the study of  EMP effects, as well as the design of EMP hardened devices, EMP weapons, and developing EMP standards for military and civilian usage. His resume reads like a “Who’s Who” of EMP, including being a Principal Staff member of the Congressional Commission to Asses the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). Baker states that, “electronic systems are so complex, from an electromagnetic coupling standpoint, that we simply cannot predict what will fail or survive an EMP event. Actual EMP testing is the only way to know whether or not a particular electronic device will survive an EMP attack.” [22]

The only good news about EMP strike is that its effect will cover a much smaller area than an extreme GMD, so there will be a significant portion of the rest of the US, as well as the rest of the outside world, left intact and able to lend a hand towards rebuilding critical infrastructure in the affected areas. Imagine the near total loss of a functioning infrastructure across an area of about a million square miles (approximately 1.6 million square kilometers, roughly equivalent to 50 Hurricane Katrinas happening simultaneously) and you will have some idea of the crippling effect of an EMP attack from a single medium sized sub-orbital nuclear detonation!

The simple fact of the matter is that approximately 1/3 of the population of the U.S. lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, the vast majority of which are located in the eastern half of the country—the prime target for an EMP attack. If the reactor vessel was breeched at the Indian Point nuclear power plant 38 mile north of New York City, and the city itself was contaminated with four times the safe level of Cesium 137 (a radioactive isotope that was deposited at dangerous levels on areas surrounding Fukushima), which has a half life of 30 years, then it would take roughly 60 years before the local Cesium 137 decayed to levels at which New York City could be safely re-occupied[23]. Given the likelihood that backup power systems will fail at a significant percentage of the nuclear installations within the EMP affected area, and the distinct probability that all utilities and central services would collapse over many of the nation’s population centers, the need to invest in preventative measures should be quite obvious.

Preventing Armageddon

The congressionally mandated EMP Commission has studied the threat of both EMP and extreme GMD events, and made recommendations to the US congress to implement protective devices and procedures to insure the survival of the grid and other critical infrastructures in either event. John Kappenman, author of the Metatech study, estimates that it would cost on the order of $1 billion to build special protective devices into the US grid to protect its EHV transformers from EMP or extreme GMD damage, and to build stores of critical replacement parts should some of these items be damaged or destroyed. Kappenman estimates that it would cost significantly less than $1 billion to store at least a year’s worth of diesel fuel for backup generators at each US nuclear facility and to store sets of critical spare parts, such as backup generators, inside EMP-hardened steel containers to be available for quick change-out in the event that any of these items were damaged by an EMP or GMD[24].

To me, this is a no-brainer. For the cost of a single B-2 bomber or a tiny fraction of the TARP bank bailout, we could invest in preventative measures to avert what might well become the end of our civilization and life as we know it! There is no way to protect against all possible effects from an extreme GMD or an EMP attack, but certainly we could implement measures to protect against the worst effects. Since 2008, Congress has narrowly failed to pass legislation that would implement at least some of the EMP Commission’s recommendations[25].

For more than 50 years, the US Army Corps of Engineers knew that New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen, and they made plans for rebuilding the aging system of inadequate levies, but those plans were never implemented. Have we learned nothing from the wholly preventable flooding of New Orleans? Will we continue to ignore facts and pretend that “everything will be okay” while our world drifts towards the next inevitable extreme GMD, or until some terrorist organization or rogue state launches an EMP attack? This time, failure to prepare will not just mean the loss of a major city, but the end of the industrialized world as we know it, along with incalculable suffering, death, and environmental destruction.

We have a long ways to go to make our world EMP and GMD safe. Every citizen can do their part to push for legislation to move towards this goal, and to work inside our homes and communities to develop local resilience and self reliance, so that in the event of a long term grid-down scenario, we might make the most of a bad situation. The same tools that are espoused by the “Transition Movement” for developing local self-reliance and resilience to help cope with the twin effects of climate change and peak oil could also serve communities well in the event of an EMP attack or extreme GMD. If our country were to implement safeguards to protect our grid and nuclear power plants from EMP, it would also eliminate the primary incentive for a terrorist to launch an EMP attack. The sooner we take these actions the less chance that an EMP attack will occur!

For more information, or to get involved, see:

...and please contact your congressman.

[1] Bill Dedman, “Nuclear Neighbors: Population Rises Near Nuclear Reactors,” Accessed December 2011.
 [2] Dina Cappiello, “Long Blackouts Pose Risk to U.S. Nuclear Reactors,” Associated Press, March 29, 2011.
[3] Lawrence E. Joseph, “The Sun Also Surprises,” New York Times, August 15, 2010. Accessed August 2010.
[4] John Kappenman, “Geomagnetic Storms and Their Impacts on the U.S. Power Grid,” Metatech Corporation, prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Meta-R-319, January 2010, p. 2—29.

[5] S. M. Silverman and E. W. Cliver, “Low-Altitude Auroras: The Magnetic Storm of 14-15 May 1921,” Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 63, (2001), p. 523-535. Additionally,  “High-Impact, Low-Frequency Event Risk to the North American Bulk Power System: A Jointly Commissioned Summary Report of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s November 2009 Workshop,” June, 2010, p. 68.
[6] Committee on the Societal and Economic Impacts of Severe Space Weather Events: A Workshop National Research Council, “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report,” National Research Council of the National Academies (2008), p. 7-13, and p. 100. Additionally, E. W. Cliver and L. Svalgaard, “The 1859 Solar-Terrestrial Disturbance and the Current Limits of Extreme Space Weather Activity,” Solar Physics (2004) 224, P. 407-422.
[7] Richard A. Lovett, “What if the Biggest Solar Storm on Record Happened Today?” National Geographic News, March 2, 2011. Accessed December 2011.
[8] John Kappenman, “Geomagnetic Storms and Their Impacts on the U.S. Power Grid,” Metatech Corporation, prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Meta-R-319, January 2010. Accessed November 2011.
[9] Ibid., p. 1—3.
[10] Ibid., p. 4—2.
[11] John Kappenman, interview by author, December 2011.
[12] “Sagging Power Lines, Hot Weather Blamed for Blackout,” CNN News, August 11, 1996. Accessed June 2000.
[13] Bryan Walsh, “Can We Prevent Another Blackout?” Time, August 11, 2008. Accessed December 2011.
[14] Lauren Effron, David Wright, Julie NA and Jason Volack, “One Electrical Worker Blamed for Leaving Millions Without Power in California, Arizona, and Mexico,ABC News, September 8, 2011. Accessed December 2011.
[15] John Vidal, “Nuclear’s Green Cheerleaders Forget Chernobyl at Our Peril,”, April 1, 2011. Accessed May 2011.
[16] NUREG-1738, “Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants,” February 2001, as reported in “Petition for Rulemaking: Docket No. PRM-50-96,” Foundation for Resilient Societies before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, p. 3-9 and 49-50. Accessed December, 2011.
[17] Arnold Gundersen, interview by author, November 2011.
[18] “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructures,” April, 2008, p. 6.
 [19] “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Volume 1: Executive Report,” 2004, p. 6.
[20] “Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack: Critical National Infrastructures,” April, 2008. Extensively referred to for EMP definitions and effects.
[21] Bill Kaewert, interview by author, December 2011.
[22] Dr. George Baker, interview by author, December 2011
[23] Victor Gilinsky, “Indian Point: The Next Fukushima?” The New York Times, December 16, 2011. Accessed December 2011.
[24] John Kappenman, interview by author, December 2011.
[25] Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, “Statement Before the Congressional Caucus on EMP,” EMPact America, February 15, 2011.

Additional references not directly cited:

 “Nuke Plant’s Generator Failures Draw Scrutiny,” CBS News, October 10, 2011.
Gary Null, PhD, and Jeremy Stillman, “Solar Storms: Katrina Times 1000? A Real Armageddon Meltdown is Possible,” Progressive Radio Network, October 6, 2011.
Beth Daley, “Markey: Back-Up Generators Failed During Tests at US Nuclear Power Plants,” Boston Globe, May 12, 2011. Accessed Jan 2012.
Yousaf M. Butt, “The EMP Threat: Fact, Fiction, and Response (Part 1),” The Space Review, January 25, 2010. Accessed December 2012.
Yousaf M. Butt, “The EMP Threat: Fact, Fiction, and Response (Part 2),” The Space Review, January 25, 2010.
“Initial Economic Assessment of Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Impact Upon the Baltimore-Richmond Region,” by The Sage Policy Group, September 10, 2007.
Edward Savage, James Gilbert, and William Radasky, “Early-Time (E1) High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and Its Impact on the U.S. Power Grid,” Metatech Corporation, prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Meta-R-320, January 2010. Accessed January 2012.
James Gilbert, John Kappenman, William Radasky, and Edward Savage, “The Late-Time (E3) High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and Its Impact on the U.S. Power Grid,” Metatech Corporation, prepared for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Meta-R-321, January 2010. Accessed January 2012.

About the author: Matthew Stein is a design engineer, green builder, and author of two best selling books: When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival (Chelsea Green 2011), and When Technology Fails (Revised & Expanded): A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency (Chelsea Green 2008). Stein is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he majored in Mechanical Engineering. Stein has appeared on numerous radio and television programs and is a repeat guest on Fox News, Lionel, Coast-to-Coast AM, and the Thom Hartmann Show.  He is an active mountain climber, serves as a guide and instructor for blind skiers, has written several articles on the subject of sustainable living, and is a guest columnist for the Huffington Post.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I read with interest the blog today and then clicked over to the link suggested by Brittany K.: Deconstructing a Safe Room (infographic)

I appreciate all the information your site gives. I wish the writers of the Allstate Blog had consulted your site and listed it in their sources. One glaring item in their graphic is that the door opens outward. If debris falls in front of the door a person may not be able to open it. [As has been mentioned several times in SurvivalBlog, inward-opening shelter doors are the norm,]

Another point worthy of mention: In their “What Should Be In Your Safe Room” section they list that there should be a generator. I can just envision someone without much knowledge or experience trying to start and run a generator in their safe room and not have any ventilation whatsoever; a carbon monoxide death trap.  God Bless, - John in Ohio

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just a quick note to those interested in obtaining a simple cost-effective Faraday Cage-like enclosures to protect small to mid-size electronic devices. As has been mentioned in SurvivalBlog before, the large steel cans of popcorn sold at the large box stores this time of year make great EMP-proof storage containers. After emptying the popcorn just place your electronics into the can and place the lid on top. No need to ground the container.

I place my Fluke multimeters, spare Solar charge controllers, spare handi-talkies and mobile radios in these tins. Thanks for all you do. - Larry D.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A brand new Hummer or Jeep Wrangler, decked out with every available option may sound like the best, most capable vehicle in an emergency situation. The harsh reality is that they could be one of the worst. Don't get me wrong, they are both very nice, with proven track records, but in an emergency, can leave you and your loved ones stranded.

The problem lies with the tremendous amount of electronics needed for the vehicle to operate. The average newer vehicle (especially within the last ten years) has several computers on board that control not only the engine, but also the transmission, the four wheel drive system, brakes, power windows and locks, and even the lights just to name a few. The fact is, computers have been used in vehicles since the early 1980s. The manufacturers have incorporated them in to more and more of the systems for better emissions, fuel economy, drivability, and creature comforts. The average vehicle has more than five computers, operating on their own network (CANS) sharing information back and fourth, making any needed adjustments for a seamless driving experience. A computer controlled engine will not start and run until the computer commands it to do so. The starter, electric fuel pump, electronic fuel injectors, and electronic ignition system are all dependant on the power train control module (PCM) to function. Unlike aircraft, there are no redundant systems in place in the event of a PCM malfunction.  A computer controlled automatic transmission cannot shift until the computer commands it to do so. Without direction, the transmission [indicator] will engage park, neutral, forward and reverse, but will not shift. Before the computer can command a shift to occur it needs to look at various sensors located throughout the vehicle such as, engine speed, vehicle speed, engine load, engine temperature, gas pedal position, selector lever position, input shaft and output shaft speeds, and probably a few more.

With the ever increasing possibility of a terrorist EMP attack or natural blast from our sun, these systems will probably not survive. The computers are not shielded for such an event. Imagine loading your survival gear and family into your bug out vehicle, turning the key, and nothing happens. The starter, fuel injectors, fuel pump, ignition coils, all receive their commands directly from the PCM. Without a working PCM your vehicle is a 3,200 pound paperweight.

There are several options for a practical EMP proof bug out vehicle. Obviously, many older gasoline powered vehicles were EMP proof. They had carburetors for fuel delivery, mechanical (points type) ignition, mechanical engine driven fuel pumps, no electronics what so ever. Automatic transmissions were also mechanically controlled and needed no electrical controls either. Older jeeps and pick-ups are great choices.  They are pretty easy to find, inexpensiveto buy, and repair.  There is also my personal favorite, the old school diesel. The old school diesel has an all mechanical fuel injection system and no computer either. Modern computerized  fuel injected diesels are in the same situation as their gasoline powered cousins. The starter,  fuel pump, glow plugs and injectors are all PCM operated and will not run without a working PCM.

My personal bug out vehicle is a 1983 ford F350 Pick-up 4x4 automatic with a 6.9 diesel. The truck looks like he**, but it’s mechanically perfect. This truck has two 19 gallon fuel tanks, allowing an over 500 mile range, and plenty of room for my family and all of our gear. I had to take care of some minor repairs to make it road ready. New batteries, brakes, filters, belts, hoses, starter, tires and a front end alignment, all told I have about $2,000 invested in a vehicle that can go anywhere no matter what.  I added some custom features as well such as a cap for the bed, auxiliary off road lighting, police siren with PA system, a trailer hitch, and a 12,000 pound winch. Vehicles such as this can be purchased inexpensively, repaired inexpensively, registered  and insured inexpensively too. There are a bunch of vehicles such as this available from most manufacturers. Ford, General Motors, and Dodge all made diesel pick-ups with mechanical fuel injection and no computers all the way into the early 90s. Ford used the 6.9 until the mid 80s before switching to the 7.3. The 7.3 was used up to the early 90s, before switching to the PCM controlled Power Stroke diesel. General Motors was using the 6.5 during the same time period without any computer, and Dodge was using the 5.9 Cummins, all of which were strong, reliable engines easily capable of 300,000 plus miles. A word of caution though, while there was no computer needed for these engines to operate, some were equipped with computers to make certain automatic transmissions operate. Most automatic overdrive transmissions in these trucks were PCM controlled. Find one with a old style 3 speed automatic or manual transmission, and you’ve eliminated that problem as well.

In my opinion, a diesel has more advantages than drawbacks versus a gasoline engine. Diesels are built stronger with larger bearings, and heavier internal components, A diesel can run on many different fuel types such as vegetable oil, animal fat, and bio-diesel which can be home made a hell of a lot easier and safer than home made gasoline. Getting past the smell of the exhaust and the rattle and hum of the engine are small prices to pay for an emergency vehicle that will work in an actual emergency. - Tony G.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hi Jim,
I continue to be amused by prepper concerns for the vulnerability of their vehicles to an EMP event.  I have followed the EMP issue closely ever since becoming a NBC qualified officer in the service, many years ago.  In 1984, by accident and through a military book-of-the-month club I received a copy of Warday and the Journey Onwards, by Whitley Strieber. Reading the book was another wake up call for me, another step towards becoming a full-fledged prepper.  A few years later, through my wife, I met a friend who was a top expert on EMP.  He explained about the various wave forms of EMP and the possible susceptibility of electronics to EMP.  He also detailed that hardening of items was not difficult, but often overlooked by civilian engineers.  He had spent many years helping the military successfully harden gear against EMP.    

Fast forward to 2010: I started listening to EMPAct America on Blog Talk radio where I heard my EMP friend speak, and where I have frequently heard authors like you and William Forstchen speak.  Forstchen of course wrote the book One Second After. In that book the EMP event takes out almost all automobiles instantly and gridlocks the roads, streets and interstates.  This led me to discuss the likelihood of vehicle susceptibility with my EMP friend.  He directed me to the EMP Commission results. (This was a commission set up by the US Congress.)  There I read not only the executive summary, but the full report.  Later I discussed the report with my friend.  He reiterated, (and I quote loosely), “If you are focused on the direct and immediate effects of EMP to your automobile, you may be disappointed and you will have missed the main point.  The effect of an EMP event could be the collapse of interdependent and critical infrastructures, particularly loss of the electric power grid and the resulting inability to get fuel for your car.  Only a few cars will stop right away.  But they will soon have no purpose if there is no fuel.”  

So the all the details are laid out in the commission report, for the following areas, Infrastructure Commonalities (including SCADA systems), Electric Power, Telecommunications, Banking and Finance, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Transportation, Food Infrastructure, Water Infrastructure, Emergency Services, Space Systems, and Government.  But I want to quote the automobile transportation section in detail from page 115:

“We tested a sample of 37 cars in an EMP simulation laboratory, with automobile vintages
ranging from 1986 through 2002. Automobiles of these vintages include extensive
electronics and represent a significant fraction of automobiles on the road today. The
testing was conducted by exposing running and non-running automobiles to sequentially
increasing EMP field intensities. If anomalous response (either temporary or permanent)
was observed, the testing of that particular automobile was stopped. If no anomalous
response was observed, the testing was continued up to the field intensity limits of the
simulation capability (approximately 50 kV/m).
Automobiles were subjected to EMP environments under both engine turned off and
engine turned on conditions. No effects were subsequently observed in those automobiles
that were not turned on during EMP exposure. The most serious effect observed on running
automobiles was that the motors in three cars stopped at field strengths of approximately
30 kV/m or above. In an actual EMP exposure, these vehicles would glide to a
stop and require the driver to restart them. Electronics in the dashboard of one automobile
were damaged and required repair. Other effects were relatively minor. Twenty-five
automobiles exhibited malfunctions that could be considered only a nuisance (e.g.,
blinking dashboard lights) and did not require driver intervention to correct. Eight of the
37 cars tested did not exhibit any anomalous response.
Based on these test results, we expect few automobile effects at EMP field levels below
25 kV/m. Approximately 10 percent or more of the automobiles exposed to higher field
levels may experience serious EMP effects, including engine stall, that require driver
intervention to correct. We further expect that at least two out of three automobiles on the
road will manifest some nuisance response at these higher field levels. The serious malfunctions
could trigger car crashes on U.S. highways; the nuisance malfunctions could exacerbate
this condition. The ultimate result of automobile EMP exposure could be triggered
crashes that damage many more vehicles than are damaged by the EMP, the consequent
loss of life, and multiple injuries.”

So the bottom line is, yes you should be concerned about an EMP event, either naturally occurring or nuclear induced, but not because it is going to instantly make your car stop running.  Take time to read the whole Commission report and you will know where the real dangers lie.  Thanks, - W.J.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm looking for info on the range (radius) of direct electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects from a nuclear detonation. If you could point me in the right direction, I'd be most appreciative.

Sincerely, - Todd H.

JWR Replies: I have discussed this before in SurvivalBlog, such as in my reply to this letter posted in 2009.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mr. Rawles,
I'd like to offer a different review of "Contagion" from the one posted by Matt H. First off, I don't believe it would be wise to look for serious survival information in any [Hollywood] movie. We are talking about Hollyweird after all. Nevertheless there were parts of the film that examined what would happen in such a widespread crisis. One character alone witnessed a home invasion, looted businesses, sealed state borders and a local food riot. Another character, a health care professional, was kidnapped and held for a ransom of vaccine. A woman was trampled by stampeding people turned away in a pharmacy line. Then there was the CDC doctor's wife who was attacked in her own home. The desperate home invaders did some homework and found out where the medical insider lived and assumed he had vaccine. In others words, a personal OPSEC failure. Aren't these relevant issues we as preppers discuss on a regular basis?

Beyond that I also disagree with the statement that the film drones on and on. Far from it in my opinion. I found it quite tense as the characters scrambled against time, conflicting national interests, criminals and even a self-centered conspiracy blogger in the desperate  battle against a previously unknown virus. People are dying by the millions and there is no end in sight through most of the movie. I personally found it more frightening than any horror flick simply because the story is so plausible. In short I wholly recommend "Contagion" as a good way to spend a couple hours. Just don't forget your hand sanitizer. Sincerely, - Bill L.


Dear Mr. Rawles,
I rarely  disagree with anything posted on your blog, but I must disagree with Matt H. and his review of the movie "Contagion". My husband and I have been serious preppers for over 10 years and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The filming was fantastic. The actors wonderful. We enjoyed the plot and the multiple characters were not hard for us to follow at all. We found the scientific research and the process of tracking a deadly virus to be interesting. My husband reached out for my hand and gave me a wink as we sat in the theatre and were reassured that we would be sufficiently prepared for a year long social distancing scenario. I thought it was odd that the cell phones and [grid] electricity were still operational. But, hey, it's a movie. And wouldn't it be nice to have communication and power if you are required to spend an extended amount of time with cranky kids? - Mama J.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dear Mr. Rawles,
 I have just one brief addition to Dr. Bob’s excellent synopsis of the dangers of anthrax regarding treatment/prevention with antibiotics. First, I must commend Dr. Bob on all of his important advice, and for his courage to offer a much needed service (the prescribing of antibiotics in advance of need) in this highly litigious society.
Understanding that in TEOTWAWKI our current risk:benefit analysis will be drastically changed, and short-course antibiotic therapy may be all that is available to us, I felt compelled to mention the current CDC recommendations regarding duration of therapy. Antibiotic use in inhaled anthrax is slightly different in prophylaxis (prevention of the disease in those who have been exposed, but are yet to display symptoms) and in treatment (those who have already begun the flu-like symptoms described by Dr. Bob).
The adult prophylactic regimen recommended consists of oral ciprofloxacin 500mg twice daily or oral doxycycline 100mg twice daily taken for 60 days.  For treatment of anthrax, either of the two above agents should be started via intravenous administration (cipro dose is 400mg twice daily, doxy dose is the same as oral) in combination with another intravenous agent, such as clindamycin 900mg every 8 hours. As the patient’s condition improves, the oral route of administration may be substituted, and it may be possible to discontinue the additional antibiotic (in this example, clindamycin). Again, the total therapy should be continued for 60 days. Other antibiotic combinations are recommended as alternatives, but these are the most commonly cited and are available generically, that is, they are affordable.
Obviously, intravenous administration will be impossible for most folks if the Schumer hits the fan, so we may have to do the best we can with oral administration – which should stand a decent chance of success if the patient is well enough to swallow and has a functional gut, as most of these drugs are well-absorbed from the GI tract. The uncommonly long duration of therapy is a function of the life cycle of Bacillus anthracis, the causative organism of anthrax. The inhaled spores typically germinate into the toxin-producing bacterium within 7 days; however, some take longer. I am not an infectious disease specialist, nor a medical microbiologist, but I suspect that the 60 day antibiotic recommendation is a bit on the safe side. If the emergency need arises and organized health care is not available, any duration of antibiotic therapy beyond 7 days would certainly be better than nothing. The committed prepper should, however, be aware of the possible need for considerably more antibiotics than the typical 7-10 day course of therapy would call for.
Again, many thanks to Dr. Bob for his frequent contributions to SurvivalBlog! - S.H. in Georgia

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