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

Pole Transformers

Pole transformers could be burned out by a major electrical pulse. Image Courtesy of Versageek

An EMP’s Effects on Nuclear Reactors: Protection

So, how can nuclear reactors be protected from the effects of an EMP?  There are a number of simple changes that could make a big difference in the event of an electromagnetic pulse. For example:

  • Sensitive transmission components and electrical control systems can be encased in a metallic shield that would prevent external EMPs from entering.
  • Antennas and power connections can be equipped with surge protectors.

Mitigating the catastrophic effects of an EMP requires engineering know-how which many companies have spent time evaluating. In addition to the metallic shields for larger structures, a second layer of protection from clamp devices can add  local protection of high-risk components thus hardening against EMP. For new installations, cost for these protections are minimal. For older installations, identifying critical components and retrofitting is in process.

The Future of Nuclear Power and EMP-Damage-Prevention

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, through review and response to petitions for rulemaking, are reviewing potential effects of prolonged station blackouts for future action. The good news? The next generation of nuclear power, which uses advanced gravity-fed cooling, will not be burdened with this issue.


Carafano, J., Weitz, R. EMP Attacks- What the U.S. Must Do Now. (2010). Accessed January 25, 2012.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Power & Energy Systems Group, Ferc. EMP-GIC Metatech Reports 319-324 Executive Summary. Accessed January 25, 2012.

United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Petition for Rulemaking. (2011). Accessed January 25, 2012.

Hardened Structures Hardened Shelters, LLC. EMP Protection. Accessed January 25, 2012.

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

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  1. 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. 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!


  4. “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

  5. 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.

    • 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.