Science vs. Cheap Politics
MSNBC and Vox now dedicate full time staff to debunk science with sarcasm. Within 24 hours of congressional testimony from the nation’s top electrical grid experts, testifying before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on the vulnerability of the U.S. power system to solar and nuclear EMP, Vox’s Max Fisher challenged Chairman Ron Johnson on the science after his questioning of Ernest Moniz on the Iran EMP threat. The aforementioned piece at Maddow Blog quotes Secretary Moniz’s acknowledgment of the role of EMP in nuclear war while simultaneously referencing Fisher as a reliable source to characterize EMP as science fiction.
The context for Chairman Johnson’s question on EMP to Secretary Moniz is in reference to the Homeland Security Committee hearing the day before where physicist Richard Garwin, former CIA director Jim Woolsey, the director of the Office of Energy Infrastructure Security at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Joseph McClellan, and electrical industry representative Bridgette Bourge all testified on the threat of nuclear and solar EMP. The hearing focused on the vulnerability of the electrical grid to both threats. The nuclear EMP threat was discussed primarily in the context of the Iranian and North Korean EMP threat. None of the witnesses are known to be Republicans. All of the witnesses took both threats seriously. Christopher P. Currie, the Director of Homeland Security and Justice at U.S. Government Accountability Office also testified on the coming conclusion of an investigation as to why the EMP Commission recommendations have not been implemented.
What we really have then are clear indicators that a small fringe group on the far left are using a serious national security issue to play politics. The threats of solar and nuclear EMP remain as bipartisan as the EMP commission itself; with champions on the left side of the aisle like Senator Ed Markey, former Senator Byron Dorgan, and the original co-sponsor of the CIPA Act, Yvette Clarke in the House. Senator Tom Carper, the ranking member at the recent EMP hearing in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, made his own attempt at politicizing the threat at the end of the hearing. When Carper indirectly suggested that some see the issue as ‘hokum’, Johnson put the question to the panel of witnesses. Each responded with strong disapproval.
Before you let the fringe left scare you and your friends into ignoring a serious national security threat, watch the hearing and get reliable scientific sources. The politics appear obvious enough that one can deduce an interest, by these groups, in Senator Johnson losing his seat to Russ Feingold. They will invoke science to convince voters that they can change the weather with government policy, but will deny science when it comes to a bipartisan national security issue.
Are the nuclear and solar EMP threats to the U.S. electrical grid science fiction? If the sarcastic characterizations from MSNBC and Vox assume an unsophisticated audience that will obediently associate anyone who utters the term EMP to a tin hat buddy of Newt Gingrich, they find themselves at odds with all physicists and space weather scientists, the White House, the British government, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the following litany of government studies.
- From the office of the Director on National Intelligence, Global Trends 2030 (required reading for intelligence community) describes a, “hostile electromagnetic or radiated environment. In this instance, nuclear first use would not be used to harm humans as much as to deny opponents use of electronic systems.”
- The Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States
- Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System (2012) Committee on Enhancing the Robustness and Resilience of Future Electrical Transmission and Distribution in the United States to Terrorist Attack; Board on Energy and Environmental Systems; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council
- Oak Ridge National Laboratory – Intentional Electromagnetic Interference (IEMI) and Its Impact on the U.S. Power Grid
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Electromagnetic Pulse: Effects on the U.S. Power Grid
- Severe Space Weather Events – NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Background: Solar and nuclear EMP are often taken together in many government approaches because they both result in long term power outages in which great loss of life and infrastructure to American society result. Existing mitigating technologies that defend against aspects of both are applicable to the current electrical grid system. There are two key differences:
1. The E1 wave of nuclear EMP can take out SCADA systems and fry small electronics.
2. Solar EMP is a matter of mathematical probability. Nuclear EMP is a matter of capability and intent. A crude low yield nuclear weapon already in the possession of North Korea, for example, can execute an EMP attack with little sophistication.