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British Government Prepares For Solar Storms

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the batten-the-electrical-hatches dept.

United Kingdom 52

judgecorp writes "The British Government has announced its plans to handle solar storms. The idea is to improve the resilience of infrastructure, including satellite communications — which the government says will also be useful against the future possibility of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons. From the report: 'National Grid and DECC are building on the work of the Space Environment Impacts Evaluation Group and E3C to analyse the range of impacts of extreme space weather events, with the Carrington Event being adopted as the reasonable worst case. These scientific assessments have enabled National Grid to change the design requirements for its Supergrid transformers, and to increase its reserve holding of transformers. National Grid is currently developing improved monitoring tools with the British Geological Survey (BGS) and installing or reinstalling Geomagnetically Induced Currents (GIC) monitoring devices into its Strategic Asset Management program. The next steps will be for National Grid, in association with BGS and working with E3C, to develop more detailed modelling of severe space weather events including impacts on generator transformers. This will extend and strengthen its analysis on the electricity transmission system completed so far.'"

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Paranoid Wankers (-1, Flamebait)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862147)

Surface to Air missiles at the Olympics (which I find bafflingly crazy, and I work with the military. Even my friend who works on the flagship Canadian submarine was speechless when I told him, and that's saying something.) and now EMP shielding?

Guys, nobody has these weapons and if they did they wouldn't waste them on you.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (4, Insightful)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862213)

You do realize that protecting against EMP is a side benefit of protecting against the much more likely solar storms that can induce huge currents in power grids and wreak havoc with satellites, right?

Oh wait. You are busy having fun. My mistake. Carry on.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862359)

Yes, it's obvious... it doesn't mean it's an less ridiculous. Unless, of course, you look at whose investments are being coddled.

The infrastructure in question; electrical and telecommunications mainly, is incredibly valuable. Especially so in the context of communicating for business and political purposes. Can you imagine what might happen to the momentum of financial transactions in the event that we lose the ability to communicate? Even worse, what would happen to the general population if they lost their ability to be entertained or informed by the propaganda machines of government?

If we were left to our own devices for any great length of time, we might learn real social skills and stop paying attention to the great leaders in the high halls of marketing and advertising. Think of what might happen if we all just learned to get along with each other!

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862591)

Or you know, millions may die as infrastructure immediately crumbles.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865421)

Speaking of infrastructure, why doesn't the government protect the tube and DLR from those evil nasty snowflakes. Seriously. 3cm of snow, and all of London grinds to a halt.

I still don't know how an underground can be affected by snow on the surface.

Forget Al quaeda with a nuke, how about a few giant snow machines?!?

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39866917)

Because quite a lot of the underground network isn't. Many of the lines end up on the surface at some point, and the depots where the trains are kept overnight aren't in underground tunnels. Lines like the Circle and District are often very shallow, and even in central London are open to the sky.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (3, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863511)

The infrastructure in question; electrical and telecommunications mainly, is incredibly valuable. Especially so in the context of communicating for business and political purposes.

I would imagine there'd be more issues about providing food to the populace than "communicating for business and political purposes".

Or do you really think that the grocery stores and such are going to keep right on going with no power for, say, refrigerators?

Having lived through Katrina (I was in the eye of Katrina for a bit), I'm not especially thrilled at the possibility that power distribution might be knocked out over a large part of the world....

We've have telecom failures from solar flares (2)

billstewart (78916) | more than 2 years ago | (#39864223)

Back in the 70s, when long-haul telecom cables were still made out of copper instead of fiber, there was a cable that failed due to electromagnetic effects of a solar flare. I don't remember the details well, but I think it was an L4 or L5 cable from Chicago to New York or something about like that; the department I was in at Bell Labs had a few physicists who were studying the results. (And yes, the study was prompted by EMP concerns from the military, as well as general reliability. We also had some people studying lightning effects.)

While that's not a significant risk for most parts of the telecom system, since we don't have a lot of 500-mile antennas any more, the electric power systems still use metal that's isolated from ground. So you could still get a significant voltage induced on a cable that could affect equipment at the end, unless you design to avoid it.

Re:We've have telecom failures from solar flares (1)

Savantissimo (893682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39870235)

Here's some real information:

Further supplementary memorandum [] submitted by the Government Office for Science and the Cabinet Office (SAGE 00b)
Meeting held in Room 35 Great Smith Street, London on 21 September 2010 at 1000.

Representation from Government: Cabinet Office, Ministry of Defence, Her Majesty's Treasury, Department for Transport, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, Government Office for Science, Department of Health.
Representation from the science community: The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, The British Geological Survey, The Electrical Infrastructure Security Council, The Meteorological Office. Representation from the Energy, Communication and Transport Sectors..

    (2) The selection of the Carrington Event as the basis for a reasonable worse case solar scenario was discussed. Although much work has been done on the scaling of this event compared to other historical events, the data on which this has been based are limited. A full analysis and use of the Carrington event as a reasonable worst case scenario requires the use of "extreme value statistics" and the currently available data allow only rough and preliminary estimates using this technique. Discussion also centred on different scaling factors used between the UK and the US, because of differences in magnetic latitude. Given these uncertainties, the view of most was that the duration and magnitude of a Carrington event scenario cannot at present be used with high levels of confidence.

    (3) It was reported that there was a 1% chance of a Carrington-like event occurring during a solar maxima year. The Carrington Event was 150 years ago but the intervening years contain about 30 strong geomagnetic storms of a similar but slightly lower intensity, notably the 1921 storm which damaged telephone networks in Sweden. It was also reported that large geomagnetic storms can be caused by a rapid succession of flare/Coronal Mass Ejections and this has been the case in several important storms. Discussions were held on the increase or decrease in the probability of a severe event in relation to solar maxima and minima years respectively. It was reported that strong solar events can happen at any time, including minima years (eg the 1986 storm), however there is 20 fold increase in likelihood of an event happening during maxima years. Discussions also centred on the robustness of 1% likelihood of a Carrington-like event and whether this was a sufficiently reliable statistic on which to base investment in more resilient technologies.

    (4) Concerns were raised about the amount of credible data available which could be used to make predictions about future solar events. It was reported that, while UK Flood risk assessment exploits decades of data from similar streams in different catchment areas to construct long statistical datasets (hundreds of years of data), accurate solar data has only been available for the past 40yrs, and with only one source; the Sun within the Solar System. Around 500 years of good recorded data would be needed to estimate 1/100 year events with high degrees of confidence. Ice core readings containing trapped nitrates have provided data which may be used as a proxy of solar radiation storms over the past 400 years, but no proxy yet exists for geomagnetic storms. It was noted that there has been a very strong scientific focus on the Carrington Event in recent years and that other storms should also be considered to construct a reasonable worst case scenario.

    (5) The direction of solar events was discussed. The impact of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) of Carrington magnitude is dependent upon the direction of the ejection and the orientation of its magnetic field, relative to that of the earth. In November 2003, a large CME plumed on the west side of the Sun as seen from the Earth. The effects were far less severe than would be expected had the ejection pointed towards the Earth. If the earth were impacted by a severe solar event, disruption would likely be global. The effects would first be directed to the northern and southern Polar Regions by the geomagnetic field but would rapidly extend to lower latitudes through changes in the upper atmosphere. While a direct event passes earth quickly, magnetosphere instability would last for many days.

    (6) Impacts on the Communications, Transport and Energy Sectors. There were informal presentations from representatives from the Communication, Transport and Energy sectors on the possible impact on assets in their sectors.

    (7) International Co-operation. The Meteorological Office is working with the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Space Weather Prediction Centre to collect space weather information.

In other words, we know it could be as bad as the Carrington event, the risk is about 3% over the next 3 years, but it could be higher, for all we know, and is unlikely to be much lower.

Similar points, with ideas about actions needed:
When It Comes to Solar Storms, We Don’t Even Know How Bad It Might Get [] By John Matson, April 18, 2012
Surprisingly, the older magnetic data which goes back over 170 years has not been digitized.

Matson links to the National Academy's Space Study Board report [] which says: "an estimate of $1 trillion to $2 trillion during the first year alone was given for the societal and economic costs of a “severe geomagnetic storm scenario” with recovery times of 4 to 10 years."

Re:Paranoid Wankers (-1, Offtopic)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862575)

Dude, I had like 10 seconds to post something before someone else did.

I've had two FPs since 2001. I had to post fast.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862223)

Devil's advocate: You nigger! You're a big ol' nigger! Niggers should just die!

Re:Paranoid Wankers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862233)

Guys, nobody has these weapons

Ever hear of nukes? Detonated at high altitude, they are the original EMP weapon.

and if they did they wouldn't waste them on you.

Well, can't argue with you there,

But the solar storm threat is legit and should be fixed -- if they've just got to ward off an imagined military threat, I like this much better than the SAMs which help nothing.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862387)

Who has nukes? Why would they use them against the UK?

America: Not as long as the UK keeps blocking Pirate Bay.
UK: Ridiculous even by their standards
France: Okay, maybe. They're still sore about Agincourt.
China: Too risky, US retaliation would vaporize all mammalian life on the planet.
Russia: See China.
India: All trained on Pakistan
Pakistan: All trained on India
North Korea: They can't make them fly up that high.
Rogue operator: "I say, instead of blowing up this one atomic weapon in a major city at rush hour, we'll detonate it out in the woods to generate an EMP field to disrupt their power grid." "Oy mate, that's a brilliant plan, that's what that is."

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

TheInternetGuy (2006682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865209)

Think you missed Israel there, not that they are a likely candidate, but still.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1, Flamebait)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862235)

Guys, nobody has these weapons and if they did they wouldn't waste them on you.

Govt is probably worried about an inside job. Their govt loves their Orwellian CCTV cams. Theres a website who's name I forget of pictures of torched and destroyed UK CCTV cameras. Eventually there comes a point where the best way for the citizens (err I mean human property of the govt) to clear the verminous CCTV cams out of an area is a short range EMP weapon... Combine that with 50% youth unemployment in greater europe, racial tensions, its going to be an exciting time.

Across the pond, in a more civilized fashion, we aren't as crazy about cams and we'd just use hunting rifles to take them out anyway instead of quenching a big superconducting magnet. Also apparently no one has found a way for the 1% to get richer by EMP hardening, or a way to make the 99% poorer by EMP hardening. another reason we are never going to do it. So those are the numerous reasons Big Brother UK is doing this but not Big Brother US.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (2)

mrbester (200927) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862273)

It was speed cameras that got torched.

The problem with using a EMP device to take out CCTV is that it also takes out all the Sky boxes and widescreen TVs tuned to the football making it unlikely that disgruntled citizens would ever consider using one...

Re:Paranoid Wankers (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862255)

Spending some money to harden the electricity distribution system against a major solar flare isn't such a bad idea when you consider the alternative. Even the relatively minor event in Canada a few years ago took months to put right, now imagine a major city like London or New York if you woke up one morning and there was no power and little hope of getting it restored for months or years because the distribution grid is shot and every country in the world is in the same boat trying to buy up new transformer capacity.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862375)

If the sun erupts during the Olympics the sun will be declared a terrorist and will be attacked and if captured held at a secret foreign prison.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862525)

Maybe a Solar Beta test?

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863105)

"Surface to Air missiles at the Olympics"

Easy enough to steal a smaller aircraft or helo for one determined to use it. Airliners aren't the only "found objects" one may hurl at the ground.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863303)

Surface to Air missiles at the Olympics

So what makes that concern paranoid? They're fairly prevalent and a number of people probably would like to shoot down something at a high profile event like the Olympics.

I think the real issue with EMP weapons is that you'd require a vast amount of energy (like a nuclear explosion above Earth's atmosphere) to generate enough energy over a large enough area to matter (there's supposedly some Cold War EMP bombs based around conventional exposives). Doesn't seem that useful from a risk analysis point of view since it probably means that Russia is nuking your primary power generation and customers at the same time. There might be some appeal to terrorists with ideologies that are more interested in destroying machines than people.

As another replier noted, large solar flares seems to be a more legitimate problem.

flagship Canadian submarine (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 2 years ago | (#39863471)

Having a submarine as the flagship seems really silly.
The Flagship is where the admiral runs the fleet from. While it has often been the biggest ship in the fleet (or task force) like a carrier or battleship, the main needs are for communication. (and of course room for the admiral and his staff)
A sub is not going to be effective as a flagship since it is underwater and out of contact a lot of the time.

Re:flagship Canadian submarine (1)

mhotchin (791085) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865717)

Perhaps I am being whooshed, but...

A Flagship 'X' is simply the best thing in class 'X'. It's a silly construction, but it's just a synonym for 'Premiere'.

Now, talking about the Flagship Canadian submarine is silly, but that's because all the Canadian submarines outside of the West Edmonton Mall *suck*. We bought them used from the British, and if Canada was not ripped off, then the British are just fortunate to have been able to unload such utter CRAP on Canada for so much money.

Re:flagship Canadian submarine (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39868667)

Sorry, I meant lead ship. HMCS Victoria is the lead Victoria-class submarine, as HMCS Halifax is the lead Halifax-class CPF.

As for the subs, well, have you ever owned a British car? (Shit man, I've owned a GERMAN car and it was a fucking junkheap and the parts were impossible to find.)

Most of the money spent has been on labour, which has gone to taxes and thus back to the govt. The rest has been spent on trucks, TVs, mortgages, and other stuff that the workers have bought over the years. I'd guess that of the overall costs of the sub project, 90% has gone back to the Canadian government by way of taxes. The rest has gone to raw material producers and the purchase itself.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 2 years ago | (#39866283)

Well I for one welcome our silly fops.
No one need worry that Akbar and his militant pulsing camel will ride into the Olympics unnoticed ,where his electromagnetic camel will explode and ruin everyones iPhone.
Hey, they held up the sky when Chicken Little was stirring up propaganda.

On a side note, thank you for your military service. The world needs SOMEONE involved to keep a level head and you can bet it won't be anyone of substantial rank ,office or title.

Re:Paranoid Wankers (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39868585)

Thanks for the thanks, but I'm a civilian contractor. I mean, I take it seriously and know that people depend on what I'm doing, not now, but maybe someone's going to press a button 10, 20 years from now, and it has to work.

My contingency plan (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862149)

vinyl records. When everyone else has no music except for the few that can play an instrument, i'll be able to put a thumbtack in the bottom of a dixie cup, find a way to spin that sucker at 33.3 rpm and have music.

Well... I might need some water too, but I promise you, if all electronics fry, my scratched to hell vinyl record will be worth more than your 100 dollar bill. Maybe... :D

Well, that solves that... (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862155)

In the event of a nasty solar storm, the brits can just pile up the acronyms generated by their preparedness program and hide behind those. The bureaucratic verbiage should be dense enough to stop all but neutrinos.

Re:Well, that solves that... (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862185)

Don't forget the radiation shielding from all the paperwork.
Also, they've got cameras everywhere, that'll protect against all threats, right? The sun will not dare have a solar storm if we point CCTV cameras at it.

Re:Well, that solves that... (3, Funny)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862217)

Finally! All the tin foil we've been stockpiling and carefully sculpting clothing out of will pay off.

So it looks like it's gonna end up as Geeks vs. Bureaucrats.

Anyone want to lay odds?

Re:Well, that solves that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862645)

Geeks by a field goal

Only if it's real Tin (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 2 years ago | (#39864183)

Aluminium foil simply doesn't work as well as real tin foil. That's why studies consistently show that tinfoil hats don't work.

Unless, of course, the Conspiracy has been stockpiling the real stuff for themselves...

Any insight? (0)

samazon (2601193) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862195)

What do you expect from a country with CCTV on every corner? I wonder who (generally or specifically) the paranoia can be attributed to. That was a question, fellow /.ers, despite the lack of appropriate punctuation.

Re:Any insight? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862245)

No. You stated that you wondered a thing. You may have asked yourself some questions leading up to that statement, but it's not necessary to publicly punctuate your private thoughts.

Worst Case? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862199)

The Carrington Event is the worst that has happened since we invented the telegraph. It is not the worst that we can expect to happen in the next xxx years.

Re:Worst Case? (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862259)

Assuming you mean natural causes there's a way to analyze geologic cores to detect proton events and it was roughly a 1 in 500 year storm.

On the other hand, since we seem to have "500 year floods" every year in the news reports, we should probably be a little worried.

As a ham radio guy I'd like to see a legendary flare just under the permanent damage rating. Point the 6M beam north, fire up the amp, make aurora contact all the way down to Panama or something... Sucks for the HF guys, but I'd have fun, and its only temporary.

Re:Worst Case? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#39870705)

On the other hand, since we seem to have "500 year floods" every year in the news reports, we should probably be a little worried.

No, a 500 year flood means a flood that size only happens every 500 years in that particular location, so you can easily have a 500 year flood on the Ohio river one year and a 500 year flood on the Danube the next.

A 500 year solar flare also means "locally" but in this case "locally" means "where the earth is at that particular point."

Re:Worst Case? (2)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862295)

Not that I doubt the word of AC, but you got a source for that? And how many is xxx?

It can always get worse. The trick to these things is not forgetting what your worst case scenario is. People tend to go, "well, we're ok for everything up to Carrington." In retellings, that gets abbreviated to "We don't have to worry about EMP." Then you count on the system to an inappropriate level, and then it goes out.

If it goes long enough, "We don't have to worry about EMP" will become "It will never go down." I've never seen a system that lasts long enough not get this treatment. There's no reason to think this one will be any different. The only proof is to continually inspect your assumptions, but let's be realistic, that ain't happening.

Thank goodness. (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862265)

At least now, when civilization collapses, we will be safe from the self aware gangers in acid suits .

For a second.. (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#39862381)

I thought this would be having another go at The Sun.

Solar Storms/Flares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862433)

I'm not too young anymore. But, for my entire life I have been hearing about the (potential) effects of solar flares and storms. I've heard that communications, especially satellites, could be interrupted. I've heard how power grids could be over loaded. Fear the sun spots. Fear the solar storms.

But, in all my days, the only "event" the I've heard of actually occurring has been aurora. Has anyone seen modern day tangible effects of these solar events?

Here's the most recent non-"event" that I remember.

From TFA... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862475)

"On the basis of the evidence received, it seems likely that at present only those states with a known nuclear capability would be able to utilise a High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) weapon. However, certain states such as Iran could potentially pose a realistic threat in the future"

Only Iran is mentioned by name in the report, pfff.
So prepare for high profile made-for-tv mini-nuke false flag (about SADM scale i would guess) during the Olympic Games, to be pinned on Iran.
It'll be Nuclear because the sick fucks are desperate for an excuse to use their theatre/bunker busting nukes in retaliation.

Nuclear War in 2012, Yay!

Re:From TFA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39867455)

(HEMP) weapon.

That's silly dude, hemp is harmless. It's the pharmacutical companies that are killing people.

([/stoner] just in case it was too subtle)

Hi, Original AC here. :) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39874831)

Yes, I noticed that too, LOL

But how about *nuclear* HEMP, did you think about that one, huh?

Sad thing is, in my above comment, I'm only half joking...

mod do3N (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862489)

paranoid consp1racy be 'very poorly NIGGER community Of OpenBSD versus

Re:mod do3N (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39862577)

Mod u down, asshole

Case Nightmare Green (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 2 years ago | (#39864127)

The Laundry's simply getting prepped for when the stars are right.

Translated to Daily Mail talk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39865391)

Ban the solar storms! Ban them all, I say! Ban! Baaaaan!

Buried in the original article (1)

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#39865539)

"The Government has promised to work with the private sector to improve the security and resilience of infrastructure that is most critical to the running of the country. " Now we see what all the fuss is really about (my emphasis). Someone has a mate in an EMP defense company who needs a few quid to keep the jolly roof on the mansion.

Not good enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39866361)

Why don't we just stick some more Typhoons up there. That should keep us safe.

Cameras (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39867083)

We wouldn't want all those cameras to go down now would we, have to keep watching the populous no matter what the solar weather might be that day. Citizen, citizen, citizen, alien....terrorist?...checking...nope, citizen, citizen, citizen.....

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