Attack on 9 substations could plunge America into months of darkness?

I remember at talk years ago that said if an enemy fired 9 nukes at critical power substation and food transportation networks, America could collapse into barbarism for a generation. But now the specific risk of an EMP attack (or solar flare) wiping out just 9 substations is gaining traction. The reason for concern? It could crash America’s whole electricity grid for months, if not years!

A 2009 FERC report (Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission) said that:

“physical damage of certain system components (e.g. extra-high-voltage transformers) on a large scale…could result in prolonged outages, as procurement cycles for these components range from months to years.”

Now that this has become public knowledge, how long before terrorist groups figure it out? Remember when Tom Clancy wrote a Jack Ryan novel where a lone pilot hijacks a 747 and flies it into the White House, and then just years later 9/11 happened? If forces us to ask: how secure are America’s substations? Forget the nukes and EMP attacks for a moment: lets consider dumber, cruder methods. What about 9 terrorist trucks loaded with IEMI devices? (Intentional ElectroMagnetic Interference).

Well, it turns out FERC have run some studies into that as well. I didn’t realise IEMI devices could be so small. “Suitcase bombs” in effect, that can be placed inside buildings and power facilities hardened to the vastly more expensive (and difficult, and possibly only state-level-action) of direct nuclear EMP attack.

As another FERC report (by Metatech 2010) says:

It should be noted that IEMI has some advantages over the E1 HEMP in that the EM weapons may be carried inside of facilities (briefcase weapons) and therefore any external shielding of a building will be ineffective. In addition, there are conducted IEMI threats that will allow the direct injection of high-level voltages into power or communications circuits, which cannot happen with E1 HEMP. E1 HEMP must couple to external lines to generate high levels of conducted voltages.

Now let’s get really down and dirty. What about a big suicide bomb, one of those completely tricked-out suicide trucks that can level a city block as we’ve seen in Afghanistan?

Are they really saying America’s electricity grid, and therefore the pumped water supply, could be taken down by a dozen large suicide trucks?

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French government MIMO group going with LibreOffice

Interesting times.

The MIMO working group chose to switch to LibreOffice when the OpenOffice community split into two branches:

  • one branch, OpenOffice, is supported by Oracle, which inherited OpenOffice when it acquired Sun. Oracle donated the OpenOffice code and brand to the Apache Foundation, an independent Open Source institution;
  • the other branch, LibreOffice, is supported by the Document Foundation.

The OpenOffice community split because of a disagreement with Oracle over the management of the project. Some of the people who criticised Oracle’s lack of commitment to OpenOffice development went on to found the Document Foundation. Oracle, however, still owned the OpenOffice name and brand, creating a big headache for MIMO members.

So MIMO met the three parties. “We invited the Document Foundation, Oracle and their respective community, and the Apache Foundation to our meetings,” Christophe Cazin says. “It took a year, but we made an informed choice. Although there were still some uncertainties with the Document Foundation, they provided us with a roadmap of LibreOffice whereas Oracle’s strategy was very blurry. Their OpenOffice community manager came to see us but was not supported by the company. Apache is a very active community, but doesn’t deliver installable software (binaries). And they didn’t know how to tackle the problem. We chose LibreOffice because we lacked visibility into the OpenOffice product and its roadmap”, he says.

Building on what they had learned from these meetings, some MIMO members also took their own steps to evaluate the sustainability of the new Document Foundation. “We found that in France the OpenOffice community had followed the Document Foundation – but we couldn’t have anticipated this”, Christophe Cazin explains. “We use social networks like Twitter and Facebook to see what is being said about the products, what the community members are doing. The community is key, because it is the foundation of an Open Source product like LibreOffice. When we saw that the OpenOffice community was not so active and had not released a milestone for a year and a half, no update, we took the final decision to go with LibreOffice.”
Read more

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Quick! Evacuate Scandinavia now!

A discussion I’ve had on the Brave New Climate boards about Chernobyl culminated in this post. I love it!

Peak background radiation today in the region appears to be 25 microR/h, that’s 2.2 mSv/y. The red area. Since this only measures gamma radiation it accurately describes the cesium contamination dose rate. Well actually no, about half that peak dose appears to be natural, so likely we’re talking about roughly a 1 mSv/year peak from Chernobyl contamination in the worst affected areas today.

2.2 mSv/year is below the average natural background radiation of the world, due primarily to ubiquitous radon.

So, for talking points, you can say that the worst contaminated areas are considerably less radioactive than all of Scandinavia. Oddly enough there is no plan yet to evacuate and condemn Sweden, Finland and Switzerland, as their natural background radiation is worse than the worst areas around Chernobyl.

Posted in Nuclear | 66 Comments

Chernobyl Schmernobly

As long as they kept a short, safe distance away from the actual reactor site, people could move back into the exclusion zone right now if they wanted. The zone is just scaremongering: based on FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). I like the fact that nature can make a comeback while we’ve vacated the area, but I just disagree with the anti-nuclear hype!

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Soviet warheads make peaceful power!

America has burned about 16,000 to 20,000 Soviet nuclear warheads over the last 20 years. It has provided about 10% of their electricity. 10% = 388.6 TW h/year, or 1.5 times Australia’s electricity consumption annually. Imagine it. Imagine 1.5 times every home, traffic light, hospital, shopping mall, and industrial complex in Australia all powered on old Soviet warheads! With a statistic like that, we can see how civilian nuclear power can be one of the greatest pathways to peace or ‘swords to ploughshares’ the world has ever known!

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Chinese nukes to replace all *new* coal by 2025?

As Next Big Future reports:

China has completed the basic technology research and published a development roadmap for a Generation IV demonstration
SuperCritical-Water-cooled Reactor that could be commissioned in 2022.

This reactor could achieve costs that are up to half the cost of current reactors and have higher efficiency.
They could be low cost enough to displace all future coal plant construction in China starting in 2025-2030.
$900 per kilowatt is over three times cheaper than the estimated overnight cost of advanced nuclear reactors ($3100 per kilowatt) estimated by the US department of energy

In China, water-cooled reactors are and will be the main reactor concept for the generation of nuclear power. China’s experience and the technology developed in the design, manufacture, construction, and operation of nuclear power plants are mainly concentrated on water-cooled reactors. Thus, the development of SCWRs is a smooth extension of the existing nuclear power generation park in China. From a technological point of view, an SCWR is a combination of the water-cooled reactor technology and the supercritical fossil-fired power generation technology. Hence, SCWRs ensure the technological availability.

The Nuclear Power Institute of China said the SCR-1000 reactor block will have a capacity of about 1,000 megawatts.

The Super Critical Water Reactor (see wiki) is all about very high pressure water that is ‘super-critical’, which to a lay person such as myself means it’s under so much pressure that the water cannot just boil away to vapour: but gets stuck somewhere between the two phases. It’s ‘supercritical’ liquid, not normal water, and not gas. My least favourite thing about this is the high-pressure. In my poor layman’s understanding of such things, that means there is slightly more risk than the liquid metal cooled reactors that don’t have high pressure. (There’s less pressure to ‘burst’ and leak).

To explain why they did this I’m going to quote directly from the wiki. Ready?

Above the critical point, steam and liquid become the same density and are indistinguishable, eliminating the need for pressurizers and steam generators (PWR), or jet/recirculation pumps, steam separators and dryers (BWR). Also by avoiding boiling, SCWR does not generate chaotic voids (bubbles) with less density and moderating effect.

Pause for a moment. The water is acting as the moderator, which means:

neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235.”

So this is a ‘slow’ neutron reactor compared to my favourite, the Integral ‘Fast’ Reactor, which uses fast neutrons to breed up the fuel and run the reaction.

Back to why I think they chose a Super-Critical Water Reactor: and remember, the wiki was just talking about ‘voids’ (bubbles) that can interrupt water moderation of the neutrons:

In a LWR this can affect heat transfer and water flow, and the feedback can make the reactor power harder to predict and control. SCWR’s simplification should reduce construction costs and improve reliability and safety. The neutron spectrum will be only partly moderated, perhaps to the point of being a fast neutron reactor. This is because the supercritical water has a lower density and moderating effect than liquid water, but is better at heat transfer, so less is needed. In some designs with a faster neutron spectrum the water is a reflector outside the core, or else only part of the core is moderated. A fast neutron spectrum has three main advantages:

In other words, it’s a higher-pressure but cheaper version of an IFR, but without the safety advantages of normal pressures. But nevertheless, they’ll still have the latest safety features as part of their standard designs.

As nucnet says:

Some 100 experts evaluated 130 reactor concepts before GIF chose the final six. Some 100 experts evaluated 130 reactor concepts before GIF chose the final six. They are the gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR), the lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR), the molten salt reactor (MSR), the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), the very high temperature reactor (VHTR) and the supercritical-water-cooled reactor (SCWR). They are the gas-cooled fast reactor (GFR), the lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR), the molten salt reactor (MSR), the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR), the very high temperature reactor (VHTR) and the supercritical-water-cooled reactor (SCWR).

SCWRs are high temperature, high-pressure, light-water-cooled reactors that operate above the thermodynamic critical point of water. SCWRs are high temperature, high-pressure, light-water-cooled reactors that operate above the thermodynamic critical point of water. They have the potential of lower capital costs for a given electric power of the plant and of better fuel utilisation, GIF said. They have the potential of lower capital costs for a given electric power of the plant and of better fuel utilisation, GIF said.



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Tesla motors releases patents: goes open source!

This is the kind of seriously crazy CEO idealism that gives me hope we might make it!

Ill hand you over to


Elon Musk has always been a rebel. Now he’s an open source rebel.

While many in Silicon Valley have railed against patent wars in recent years, and some have lobbiedWashington to reform patent law, Tesla’s taking an unprecedented step of opening all its electric car patents to outside use.

In a blog post on Thusday, Musk said Tesla has removed the patents decorating the wall of the company’s Palo Alto headquarters — a symbolic move to coincide with this announcement. Tesla’s billionaire cofounder and CEO writes that the company “will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

This is a reversal in policy for Tesla, as Musk describes:

“We felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.”

Musk says that the new open source policy’s goal is to help stem climate change. He writes: “It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis.”

Of course, there may also be a silver lining for Tesla. Musk says “the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.” This may be true — but it could also aide Tesla’s rate of adoption. It may encourage other companies to start building charging stations and other products that would support Tesla’s growth.

It’s also unclear exactly what using Tesla’s patents in “good faith” means. If Ford or GM decided to use the patents to create their own Tesla knockoffs, it seems unlikely Musk would let that slide. What if it’s a rival start-up instead? There are many unanswered questions.

Tesla has partnered with other automakers in the past. For example, it has supplied battery packs to Toyota.

Tesla stock is up about 1% on the day, although it has been falling in afternoon trading.


Posted in Electric Vehicles | Leave a comment