A direct hit from an ejection of charged particles from the sun could be among the most serious of natural disasters, NASA head Charles Bolden warned Tuesday. Bolden spoke before scientists and industry members at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, which was held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auditorium and Science Center in Silver Spring, Md. A few days later, a huge hole opened up in the sun's corona, raising the possibility that major solar storms could take place in the next few days.
The reason is not that solar storms are getting more powerful, but as Whitley Strieber points out in his ebook Solar Flares, our electronic grid is becoming more vulnerable. The consequences of a powerful solar emission striking our planet at this time would be horrendous. As Strieber points out in Solar Flares, "a 2008 National Academy of Sciences report states that a solar storm such as one that struck Earth in 1921 would leave 130 million Americans without power and knock out 350 of the huge transformers that our national electrical grids depend on." The report estimated that recovery would take at least 10 years, during which time most of the country would be without power, with devastating consequences.
Power companies have resisted hardening the grid against such storms, in part because of costs and in part because there is no standardized federal mandate and therefore they would be vulnerable to lawsuits should their efforts to provide protection prove inadequate.
in 2010, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced the GRID act, designed to protect the U.S. power grid against cyber threats, electromagnetic pulse bombs and such things as solar storms. The act passed the U.S. Congress unanimously, but died in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources when utility industry lobbyists successfully argued that it would be an inappropriate intrusion of governmental regulatory authority and, in any case, too costly. As the bill mandated far more extensive protections than would be necessary to secure our grid against solar flares, it would indeed have cost the companies much more than a program that concentrated only on protecting from the solar threat.
It is urgent that a new act be passed that would mandate the lower level of protection necessary to guard against solar storms. Otherwise, we remain vulnerable to a type of solar event that is absolutely inevitable and could, in fact, strike us more or less at any time, as Bolden has warned.
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