You may remember last month, or so, back we did a Peoplenomics article on how “certain sources” of ours were concerned about the “urban-spillover” effect in the event of a widespread (REGIONAL AND UP) attack on the power grid.
Today, we see another side of this concern coming to light in the report about how the FedGov is planning for just such a thing and will be exercising for it shortly.
Also called a “Black sky” event, the dropping of the grid – even if only regionally – is one of those nightmare scenarios that would “keep on giving” as a major economic disruption for years, if not a decade.
The actual source or cause of disruption does not matter. What does matter is that a regional long-extended grid outage would begin melting down nuclear power plants left and right.
You see, in that Peoplenomics report, we noted that nuclear plants need (as in require, not optional) continuous cooling for in most cases 90-120 days under “normal circumstances.”
The problem is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has listened to the power industry and has “swallowed the pill” on why they don’t really need to have enough diesel fuel on hand to complete a cold shut-down. Specifically, that would cost money.
The mechanics of a nuclear plant shutdown with the boiling water type reactor is that even if SCRAMMED they need cooling in order to prevent a runaway condition. Once they are on the road to cold shut-down, it doesn’t help because when the power fails, and cooling with it, the reactor is merely a day to a week from “going Fukushima.”
Having more diesel is not the answer.
The ONLY acceptable answer is to keep all plants fully stocked to operate (with back-up) from hot operating conditions to complete cool-down.
Sadly, there’s another problem which doesn’t get the discussion (and respect) it deserves. That is the problem of overloaded rod cooling ponds. These, too, can boil and meltdown if cooling is interrupted for a suitable length of time.
In the Peoplenomics piece we focused on the “double Fukushima” problem: What would happen to the Great Lakes (and Hamilton and Toronto) if there was a radiation event that ruins the Lakes as a source of drinking water? You might find 20-40 million people getting thirsty – and mobile – with no warning.
That’s the kind of nightmare knock-on sequencing that the Fed’s “exercise” will likely gloss over.
It wouldn’t be the first time. All students of military history will remember the misadventures of Marine Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper during Millennium Challenge 2002? Wikipedia instructs us what to know: Like most military exercises, there were two teams: blue and Red.
“Red, commanded by retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Paul K. Van Riper, adopted an asymmetric strategy, in particular, using old methods to evade Blue’s sophisticated electronic surveillance network. Van Riper used motorcycle messengers to transmit orders to front-line troops and World-War-II-style light signals to launch airplanes without radio communications.
Red received an ultimatum from Blue, essentially a surrender document, demanding a response within 24 hours. Thus warned of Blue’s approach, Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue’s fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces’ electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships. This included one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five of six amphibious ships. An equivalent success in a real conflict would have resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 service personnel. Soon after the cruise missile offensive, another significant portion of Blue’s navy was “sunk” by an armada of small Red boats, which carried out both conventional and suicide attacks that capitalized on Blue’s inability to detect them as well as expected.
At this point, the exercise was suspended, Blue’s ships were “re-floated”, and the rules of engagement were changed; this was later justified by General Peter Pace as follows: “You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days’ worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?” After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action.
Van Riper continued with unorthodox tactics, which sadly are the stock-in-trade of our adversaries. When things got out of hand, and Van Riper’s Red scored important punches, the rules were suspended.
That’s why you’ll have to pardon us if we look at the FedGov’s upcoming exercise with a high degree of skepticism.
Like the charade “Stress Tests” imposed on the financial industry, so too, civil control scenarios are generally limited to an “expected range of outcomes.”
But with the Van Riper template (think outside the real box and act as events would naturally drive) we anticipate the FedGov op will be pronounced a “rousing success” with the usual platitudes like “mission accomplished” and other bizarre forms of self-congratulatory aggrandizement.
So here is Ure’s challenge for the “ops” planners.
Make the “exercise” cope with a 1.5 year grid hard-down event.
In the process, run the reactors to where they run out of coolant pumping diesel back-up and with none of the “re-setting” that was used to negate Van Riper. For that behavior enters the gray zone between denial and delusional, although weighting toward the latter.
In the exercise, melt (as we did in the Peoplenomics piece) the Fermi 2 boiling water reactor and take out Great Lakes drinking water.
Simultaneously (with the NRC map here) take out 3 of the five reactors in Illinois through coolant failure over the duration of the exercise.
Now we have no drinking water that can be pulled from the mighty Mississippi, and I’m not sure where the crews will be found to barge fuel up and down the river, nor are we sure where the 60-million displaced by the combined effects of such a strike would be fed, watered, and housed.
If the FedGov exercise doesn’t get down to the brass tacks we’ve described more fully in Peoplenomics #829-B of July 29, then sorry to report as a kind of self-appointed Reality Ombudsman At Large, it’s just another government “feel-good” that fails to resurrect the critical missing piece of American strategic thinking that we need to be rescuing right now:
If you haven’t been previously made aware of the gap between nuclear reactor shut-down times and eventual melt-down risks, you have some “catching up with the class” to do.
You almost might want to keep in touch with our friend Shane Conner over at www.ki4u.com. We’re not the only folks who see grid hard-down as a kick-off event that could bring on the modern analog to the Dark Ages. Except, of course, instead of maps noting “Thar be dragons” the maps will simply show “Dead Zones.”
“Urban spill-over?” If it comes up at all, it will be at the bad joke level. No one will likely touch the 60-million nomads issue. And maybe that’s OK…we can just all remain asleep and mutter about emails and collusion and other useless memes. Charades can be useful if you don’t have a real solution.
(I apologize for presenting so much detail about a Peoplenomics piece, but this is a critical subject in the public need, interest, and concern..)
Write when you wake up from this nightmare,