I co-authored an op-ed with Igor Khripunov for The Bulletin today.
You can read the full piece on The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website.
Key points are:
As the IAEA has suggested, the lessons of Fukushima that need particular study are “those pertaining to multiple severe hazards” that might afflict a nuclear power plant. Such complex hazards can emerge from natural disaster, sabotage by terrorists or other malcontents, or be a combination of natural events and intentional acts. Nuclear safety and security staffs — whose cultures are quite different — should be trained to interact with one another as they respond to all three types of severe hazards.
You can also view it on the Center’s website here.
We cut a section due to word count, but we raised a point that pushed the envelop a bit. Click “Read more” if you’re curious:
Grey Zone. Asking whether governments, groups of people, or individuals may replicate natechs for hostile purposes may seem like a question for science fiction. During the Cold War, however, both the United States and the Soviet Union experimented with high-altitude tests that generated electromagnetic pulses (EMP) far more severe than solar activity. Countries and groups possessing nuclear weapons or improvised nuclear devices could deploy EMP blasts against electric grids, communication satellites, and other vital infrastructure. U.S. secretary of defense William Cohen warned at an April 1997 conference sponsored by the University of Georgia, “Others are engaging even in an eco-type of terrorism whereby they can alter climates and set off earthquakes and volcanoes through the use of electromagnetic waves.”
North Korea, for instance, may entertain EMP ambitions. Some U.S. experts reportedly believe that Pyongyang’s second nuclear test in 2009 included a “super-EMP” weapon capable of disabling the power grid across most American states. In a recent Asia Times article, a scholar believed to be associated with the Kim Jong-Il regime speculated that the North’s retaliation against U.S. aggression would involve high-altitude nuclear explosions that cause major explosions at U.S. nuclear power plants.
The U.S. NRC takes such threats seriously. It admits that portions of nuclear power plants’ electrical instrumentation and control systems could be disabled through enormous induced voltages and currents, depriving nuclear cores of coolant and leading to meltdowns. NRC officials believe, however, that such a failure would likely have only momentary impact. The failed equipment would be swiftly restored to service. The NRC’s position is consistent with early 1980s Sandia Laboratory analysis of worst-case scenarios. Having conducted simulations, Sandia scientists concluded that EMP poses no substantial threat to nuclear power plants. Such optimism is not universal, however.
Such ambiguities make fertile ground for conspiracy theories and fantasies. There are persistent claims that a device or system could be developed or has already been developed which would enable a nation to create earthquakes, volcano eruptions, or other cataclysms by interfering with the earth’s geological processes. Science can work miracles, but experimentation in this field is banned by the 1977 Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modifications Techniques. Under Article 1, state parties agree not to engage in such techniques which have “widespread, long-lasting or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage, or injury to any other state party.”