By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
It’s seems like the stuff of science fiction: An Electromagnetic Pulse or EMP weapon detonates above the western United States.
The power gird is knocked out.
It’s summer and 300,000 tourists in Las Vegas suddenly lose air-conditioning.
More importantly, surgical devices and machines keeping people alive won’t work. Cars won’t start. iPhones fry. Prison locks open. Refrigerators stop, food and medicine spoil. All the electronics on U.S. aircraft carriers die, leaving the fleet dead in the water. As the sun sets, we’re all in the dark.
This however, is not science fiction. This scenario is real enough that NV Energy has a plan and practice in place to repair and mitigate the devastating damage an EMP weapon could do to the state’s energy grid, Doug Cannon, president and CEO of NV Energy, said Friday on Nevada Newsmakers.
“It is something that we drill, it is something that we look at and hope we never have to test it,” Cannon told host Sam Shad. “But it is there if we needed it.”
Yet any repairs to the grid after an attack would be extensive, complicated and time consuming, he said.
“It (electrical grid) certainly wouldn’t be back tonight, it would not be a couple-of-hours outage and we would have to really work with various agencies, various other stake holders to get the grid back up,” he said.
The odds are against an EMP attack hitting Nevada, Cannon said. Yet that’s no excuse for a lack of planning.
“This is a scenario that from our perspective has very little likelihood of occurring,” he said. “But if this scenario were to occur, it could be a significant event, depending on the scope of that event.”
The federal government also takes the EMP threat seriously. Last year, the federal EMP Task Force on National and Homeland Security reported China already has ability to conduct an Electromagnetic Pulse attack on the United States, according to Forbes.
The federal task force concluded that China now has super-EMP weapons, knows how to protect itself against an EMP attack, and has developed protocols to conduct a first-strike attack, even as they deny they would ever do so.
EMPs, however, can also occur naturally, according to scientific reports. EMPs can be produced from things like an electromagnetic pulse from lightning or coronal mass ejections from the sun.
“I can tell you from an electric grid perspective, we do have tools in place that will allow us to essentially black-start the grid,” Cannon said, referring to generators that can start on their own after a major-system collapse.
“We actually run drills within the company and across the industry where we run through these various scenarios and say, “OK what happens if we essentially lose the entire grid and we have to bring it back up from the ground up?
To guard against futuristic devastating attacks, NV Energy would go back to a technology from the early 20th century.
“We have old diesel generators in the system that could actually fire up and start the grid back up as we start up different generation,” Cannon said. “Now those old diesel generations are really just to start the grid. And then from there, we can add additional generation.”