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Preparing for Nuclear War and the End of the World as Anyone Could Know it By James Reed
Alone here in my cold Melbourne flat, drinking and morbid, I often wonder how it will all end, and how I will end, although my ending is less uncertain. I am not the only one contemplating deeply depressing thoughts, although many do not need alcohol to do so:
“The Federal government’s national disaster response and planning organization, FEMA, has significantly updated its nuclear disaster plans according to a new bombshell report in Buzzfeed, which describes the new plans as “truly terrifying”. The report is based on an exclusive interview with an unnamed US Federal Emergency Management official. Notably, the official indicated the new FEMA plan includes preparedness for a scenario involving “large nuclear detonations over the 60 largest US cities”. The plan was discussed on Thursday at a two day National Academies of Sciences workshop for public health and emergency response officials held on Capitol Hill, and included emergency readiness planning for large scale thermonuclear blasts by state actors, as opposed to a prior emphasis on terror organizations deploying tactical nuclear devices.”
It is clear that a nuclear war involving that many nuclear devices will turn civilisation back hundreds of years, and if at least 60 bombs are to be lobbed on the US, expect every major Australian city to be effortlessly wiped out as well. As well, 90 of the US nuclear plants are in danger from an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) event, which would be even easier to produce:
“Our reactors are better designed and built – mostly – but the effects of an EMP would turn them into 99 potential Chernobyls. If the power grid is taken out, all our reactors will instantly go into shutdown mode – and if their coolant pumps stop running, they’ll almost certainly melt down. To stop that happening all nuclear power plants have their own backup generators. These power the coolant pumps for both the reactors and the spent fuel cooling ponds, which can also melt down if they aren’t cooled. It’s an effective system, but what happens if the backup generators fail too? In fact, we already know the answer to that one: Fukushima happens. The initial earthquake that hit Fukushima put the reactors into a safe shutdown mode; then the tsunami took out the generators that were essential for the shutdown to stay safe. If an EMP takes out the generators, exactly the same will happen at every one of the USA’s 99 power stations as happened at Fukushima.
The unanswered question is what effect an EMP will have on the backup generators. In fact a lot of the generators themselves will probably be unaffected; they’re just big Diesel engines, and those can be pretty simple. Older Diesels don’t need any electronics to run, so as long as they can get started, they’ll work. Where it gets difficult is starting them. These backup systems kick in automatically when the reactor shuts down, but that process does need electronics. Unless the reactor’s systems tell the generator to start, it won’t. In some cases the station’s operators might be able to start the generators manually and keep the pumps running, but that’s going to depend on the generators. If they have electronic control systems, instead of plain old fuel injection, they’re going to fail. It’s likely that, even in the chaos that would follow an EMP attack, many reactors would still manage to shut down safely. However, plenty more probably won’t. The smart assumption to make is that at least half of them will have some sort of failure, and many will be as bad as Chernobyl or Fukushima.
Unfortunately, most of the USA’s nuclear reactors are on or near the east coast, and that means the prevailing winds will carry the steam and smoke inland. Large parts of the Midwest will be exposed to fallout. It won’t be anything like the fallout from a nuclear attack – a reactor accident will scatter a few tons of radioactive dust, while a nuclear ground burst will throw a few thousand tons into the atmosphere – but it could be bad enough.”
Thus, the effects of a nuclear attack will not be limited to the initial blast, but will have a “kick-on effect” upon nuclear power infrastructure. This problem has been ignored by most organisations concerned about related issues, probably because it is so difficult to deal with. Nuclear power plants are under constant cyber-attack, and last year, a dozen US plants were attacked by hackers, and there is no reason why Australia’s one nuclear plant would not be such as target, heaven forbid, as well: