After an EMP Event, Can A Nuclear Plant Shutdown Safely?

Nuclear Power Plant plus Sub Station

Nuclear Power Plant Plus Substation: Image Courtesy of AnRo007

How would an EMP affect our Nuclear Power Plants?

An EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, can be a potential threat to the United States and the world, that we are not prepared for. It can occur when a high-altitude nuclear weapon is detonated, or through severe space weather such as a solar flare or Coronal Mass Ejection. Even a lightening strike can produce an electromagnetic pulse, and interrupt transmission of power.

Although non-scheduled outages from power surges are usually transitory, the effect on power generation presents an unacceptable risk. The loss of supply not only cripples the end user but the generator of the power, as well. So, what happens when the transmission lines can not accept power from the producers, and how do the plants shut down under a station blackout condition? An EMP’s effect on the successful shutdown of a nuclear power plant must have consequences, so what are they?

Power Transmission and EMP

Electric Transmission Lines

Transmission Lines can carry electromagnetic pulses: Image Courtesy of Guam

An EMP is caused by a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy and a rapid acceleration of charged particles. Through this burst, gamma rays collide with particles to produce free electrons which produce current (E1). It is this current that would destroy electronic equipment on Earth in the event of a severe solar storm, or an EMP attack.

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A nuclear weapon detonation produces three waves, E1, E2,and E3. The third pulse, E3, is most like that of a solar event; the effect on the electromagnetic distortion in the Earth’s atmosphere. These longer-duration, lower-frequency pulses can ride the transmission lines and destroy unhardened transformers. The primary effect is to magnetize the cores of transformers connecting to the transmission lines, thus destroying their ability to step down or step up the power.

Today, with utility and non-utility power producers, transmission lines are connected over long distances, and regulated separately. By connecting the transmissions lines, transport of power becomes easier, but the vulnerability of a massive shutdown becomes a higher probability. A power surge from an EMP, an oversupply of voltage that can last up to 50 microseconds, has the capability to destroy transformers, shutting down power transmission and reducing a power plant’s output to zero. With a nuclear plant, this issue can become serious.

Click to Read Page Two: Nuclear Power Plant Shutdown After an EMP

© Copyright 2012 Judy Haar, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science


  1. Greg says

    Such optimism. I’m a nuclear technician. The point is not the EMP. The point is the fact that any catastrophic event that hits mankind or a major nuclear power country (France, US China etc.) would result in our extinction as reactors and HLW facilites would be unattended. No survivors, no preppers, no rebuilding civilisation. Extinction in the absolute sense of the word. Some examples; Global pandemic – Spanish Flu 1918, Economic collapse and societal breakdown (probably happening as I write), Super Volcano eruption etc. The point is we have built a Doomsday machine right out Dr Strangelove without realising it and very few people seem to grasp the severity of the situation. We have guaranteed our extinction. Nuclear reactors are the tip of the Iceberg. Within a week HLW facilites would go into meltdown. As opposed to reactors having say a few hundred tons of fuel on site. HLW sites can have thousands of tons of hot fuel in cooling ponds generating significant decay heat. So the approach at the moment is simple. It’s assumed no catastrophic event will occur. Last time I checked assumption was the mother of all screwups.

  2. Greg says

    What happens if a plant is left unattended for a long period of time possibly permanently? For example a virus outbreak like Spanish flu takes hold? Chernobyl almost took out the whole of Europe. That was one reactor. France has 58!

  3. Discipleof Jesus says

    “Sensitive transmission components and electrical control systems can be encased in a metallic shield that would prevent external ”
    Do you know how hot transformers get ? lol , sister if you encase these transformers they will burn up . You would have to have a faraday cage which is open around them , the only way to harden transformers would be to have these cages

  4. SwissArmy1984 says

    So nothing is resolved yet and there are 65 potential radioactive fallout sources in the US alone (there are also a bunch in eastern Canada) that could result from the EFFECTS of an EMP of human (high-altitude nuclear bomb explosion) or major solar storm origin. A simple look at a nuclear facilities map of North America means the East Coast would be done for. That’s a majority of the US’s population gone from radiation poisoning if they haven’t died from the results of societal breakdown beforehand.

    Oh, and by the way it would be easier to keep replacement equipment in fully enclosed Faraday cages (your steel boxes) than trying to protect equipment in use. Any connection through the wall of the Faraday cage could allow the passage of an EMP, no matter how fast any circuit breaker could cut the line.

    • Greg says

      There are 99 reactors in the US. All of them very old. Many have their HLW cooling ponds on site and many more off site. These store thousands of tons of spent hot highly radioactive fuel and they will meltdown if unattended.


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