EMP: The Potential Disaster That Gets Ignored

The subject of EMP isn't covered in the mainstream press very often. And while The Economist isn't exactly mass-market, it isn't fringe either. The disaster that could follow from a flash in the sky

Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) is an effect of nuclear weapons. Detonate a nuclear bomb high in the atmosphere (40 km or so) and the result of pumping large amounts of gamma rays into the ionosphere is an EMP. Other things can generate similar effects on varying scales.

ON MARCH 13th 1989 a surge of energy from the sun, from a “coronal mass ejection”, had a startling impact on Canada. Within 92 seconds, the resulting geomagnetic storm took down Quebec’s electricity grid for nine hours. It could have been worse. On July 23rd 2012 particles from a much larger solar ejection blew across the orbital path of Earth, missing it by days. Had it hit America, the resulting geomagnetic storm would have destroyed perhaps a quarter of high-voltage transformers, according to Storm Analysis Consultants in Duluth, Minnesota. Future geomagnetic storms are inevitable.

An EMP would have similar impacts.

High voltage transformers are not something you order from Amazon. They take time to build, they are not commodities, and there are very few people building them. Without them, you would have NO electric power – except what you are able to generate on your own.

No electricity means no heat in the winter, (bet your oil-burner uses electricity to run,) no refrigeration. ATMs, electronic cash registers, computers, and the internet all stop working. Electronics in vehicles stop working, as do fuel pumps at gas stations. Which means goods delivery – including food – stops. Water treatment and pumping stops. Elevators stop. And it isn’t just that computers and smart phones stop working for a time. They are toast, and won’t work again. Same for the electronics in your home thermostat, refrigerator, oven, car, solar-power charging system, etc.

The expense of installing surge-blockers and other EMP-proofing kit on America’s big transformers is debated. The EMP Commission’s report in 2008 reckoned $3.95bn or less would do it. Others advance higher figures. But a complete collapse of the grid could probably be prevented by protecting several hundred critical transformers for perhaps $1m each.

The costs of not doing it, versus the cost of doing something seem to be the sticking point. That and who would pay for it.

The article isn’t long and is worth a look.

The Efficient Market Hypothesis – or when markets get it wrong

Electric vehicles may be the future. A lot of people think so. I haven’t seen an electric vehicle that both has the range I need and anything close to the towing capacity I want in a vehicle. (Some of us do more than run back and forth to the grocery store and work!) Electrocuted | Energy Matters

The referenced article is interesting, but the attached graph is what really caught my eye. Tesla’s market capitalization is nearly that of GM. But the number of vehicles they sold in 2016 is dwarfed by GM. And Ford. And everyone.

I saw this kind of thing in 1990s during the .com bubble. People – who were otherwise intelligent – told me that it was OK that internet companies were so small… they were building the future! Or something. But of course it does matter.

But then when you start to talk to them about the statement of cash flows, their eyes glaze over because they are only buying the sizzle. Do you know what a statement of cash-flows is, where to find it and how to read one? Are you familiar with the equation Assets = Liabilities + Owners Equity? (Do you know where you might see that equation?)

Maybe Tesla really is worth as much as GM. Maybe they have the secret sauce that will let their electric cars be so much better than the ones from Volvo, or Toyota, or Ford, or Honda, or anyone else, but in my humble opinion, there is something wrong with the way the markets are viewing Tesla.

For the basics on the Efficient-market hypothesis, see Wikipedia, but remember it is the Wiki. For an alternative view on the rationality of markets, the standard text is Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay, published in 1841. It details such things as the “South Sea Bubble” that hit England, “The Mississippi Scheme” that hit America and Tulipmania that hit Holland.

The Mess That is Illinois. SiGraybeard says it better than I could

I have family in Illinois that are dependent on pensions, so I can’t even think rationally when it comes to the insanity. I’m just incensed. The Silicon Graybeard: The One Factoid About the Illinois Mess You Can’t Miss

I will highlight one thing that he “isn’t saying” and say it plain. There is a LOT of corruption in Illinois politics.

I’m not saying it’s related to the fact that as soon as I started to type “Illinois politicians pension promises” into my search bar, before I finished the second word it offered to autocomplete with “Illinois politicians in jail”. As the saying goes, I’m not not saying it either.

4 of the last 7 Illinois governors did time in jail. Mostly for federal corruption, and some for stuff they did after they left public office. (You remember Rod Blagojevich, I’m sure.)

Then there is Tony Rezko, who should have been a millstone around Obama’s neck, but the media wouldn’t report on it. Rezko – who did favors for Illinois politicians on both sides of the divide, helped Obama buy a house in Chicago. The deal was shady, and a lot of people thought it amounted to a “gift” of some size, but by the time anyone cared, Obama was in Washington, and Rezko was in prison.

Rezko’s behind-the-scenes connection in the Obama house deal became public as Rezko revealed personal financial details as he sought to post bail.

While Rezko’s wife paid the full asking price for the land, Obama paid $300,000 under the asking price for the house. The house sold for $1,650,000 and the price Rezko’s wife paid for the land was $625,000.

That “piece of land” was adjacent to the Obama house, and Rezko later sold some of it to the Obama family. Water under the bridge at this point.

For a rundown of the History of Illinois Political Shenanigans see the post I wrote in 2009. Pay particular attention to the part about Paul Powell. His story tells you everything you need to know about politics in The Land of Lincoln.

“There’s only one thing worse than a defeated politician, and that’s a broke one.” – Paul Powell, one-time Illinois Secretary of State.

When Powell died, in 1970, $800,000 in cash was found in his lodging. In suitcases, and shoe-boxes.

New High Tech Stuff Isn’t Always More ‘Environmentally Friendly’

Which is why the EPA won’t let certain things be manufactured in the US. (Not that shipping that manufacturing overseas is really ‘good’ for the environment. But NIMBY is a strong force in America.)

So first up is the whole electric vehicle craze. (And it is a craze.) The Silicon Graybeard: All-Electric Small Airplane

OK, so there’s an electric plane. Not the first. The thing that caught my eye…

Earlier this week, several outlets reported a study from the Swedish Environmental Research Insitute that the “carbon footprint” of producing the batteries for an electric car was equivalent to driving for 8 years. This ignored recharging the batteries for the life of the car, which is obviously coming from an electric power generating plant somewhere, so more than likely generating CO2 itself. I’m sure you’ve seen electric cars referred to as coal powered.

The report shows that the battery manufacturing leads to high emissions. For every kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery generated emissions of 150 to 200 kilos of carbon dioxide already in the factory. The researchers did not study individual brand batteries, how these were produced, or the electricity mix they use.

As Graybeard points out, battery researchers are struggling to come up with batteries that have 4% of the energy density of gasoline. (450 Wh/kg versus 12,000 Wh/kg.) And the “8 year” figure doesn’t include charging of the batteries. That is just the carbon cost of producing the battery.

This reminds me of the state of fusion power over the past few decades. Since before I graduated from college, fusion power has been “just around the corner.” And while the ITER (the current international attempt at fusion) might actually produce a reactor that generates more power than it consumes, no utility will ever build one. Imagining Fusion Power | Energy Matters

First off, fusion reactors based on the Tokamak design will produce large amounts of neutrons. These will turn all of the components of the Tokamak into radioactive waste. Large quantities of radioactive waste.

The Hirsch article tells you that worldwide fusion energy research is almost totally focused on a concept called the tokamak, a toroidal (donut) shaped system, which uses the deuterium-tritium (DT) fusion fuel cycle. You are reminded that the DT cycle is characterized by the copious emission of neutrons, which will result in the creation of large quantities of radioactivity, no matter what materials are used to build such a system. Opps! Managing large quantities of radioactive material raises a huge red flag with you, based on the experience with nuclear power plants. Not good!

So we would have EXACTLY the same problems with fusion reactors – storing radioactive waste – that makes the population hate fission reactors. Not a “clean technology.”

Then there is the likelihood of a regular explosion.

ITER-Tokamak reactors appear to be seriously wanting, in part because of the massive amount of radioactivity that will be produced and in part because its massive superconducting magnets could suddenly go normal, resulting in an explosion of the magnitude of a World War II blockbuster bomb.

So radioactive debris in the middle of something that could let go with the force of a VERY large conventional bomb. Yeah, sign me up for one of those!

While I’m not of the “let’s dump all fusion research” camp, I am aware of the fact that there are problems with the current design. And we’ve sort of put all of our eggs in one basket on that front.

On the electric vehicle front, I think that day will dawn, but it will take some serious developments in either battery or super capacitor research. I actually think some of the research being done in artificial photosynthesis to produce alcohol fuels has more promise. But that doesn’t get much press.

You Mean They Actually Have to Live Up to the Agreements They Made?

Greece has never really left the news, except that Americans have mostly been ignoring it in favor of more entertaining stuff. Greece fails to reach bailout deal with eurozone finance ministers

Depending on the article you read, Greece has either gotten, a deal, won’t get a deal, or will have any deals pushed off until after the German election in September.

Some people want Greece to do more. Some think that isn’t realistic. But this quote caught my eye.

Brussels wants all previously agreed reforms implemented.

Greece has been bailed out 3 or 4 times. In each case they have made promises, such as raise taxes, or sell nationalized industries to private concerns. They have done some of this, but not nearly all of this because it is hard. And in some cases they have passed laws that will do the hard stuff later this year or next. (Of course they can always change their minds which leaves some people feeling like it is another dodge.)

Why the delay related to Germany’s election? Because Angela Merkel would like to be re-elected. And the average German-in-the-street isn’t happy about all the money she loaned gave to Greece. And if she admits it was a gift and not a loan…. She is already facing a pretty tight election.

Meanwhile, in the Socialist Paradise of Venezuela…

Venezuela is teetering on the brink. Venezuela’s oil production is on the brink of collapse – Business Insider

If oil production collapses in the country, they won’t have a dime. They are already in a really bad way.

The inflation rate, according to the IMF, will balloon to 720 percent this year. Food shortages have been common for quite some time, but are deepening and wearing down the population. Three out of four people surveyed by the WSJ reported involuntary weight loss last year. Hospitals have completely broken down.

No food, no medical care. (What? I thought health care was a right. How could this happen in a socialist paradise?)

So why is oil production declining? Because the .gov used the oil money to buy and keep power, and spent none of it on maintenance. But there is a funny thing about oil equipment… it breaks down.

Crude oil production is down 18 percent since 2015 and is expected to decline 10 to 15 percent this year. Venezuelan oil refineries are also breaking down, unable to obtain spare parts.

The litany of decay goes on from there. Unpaid bills. Oil sent abroad, not kept for domestic use. The security services of the country are getting restless too. (They have families who can’t eat after all.) As Margaret Thatcher would have said, they have reached the point where they’ve run out of other people’s money.

Oh No! People Might Be Expected to Pay Off Loan$

It used to be that keeping a promise – even to a bank – was a virtue. 400,000 were promised student loan forgiveness. Now they are panicking – May. 18, 2017

Panicking because they might actually have to do what is they promised to do; pay off a loan.

Thanks at least in part to the Dept. of Education, the cost of a college degree has risen astronomically. So students are saddled with debt, that in many cases they are struggling to paying back. But then perhaps they should have thought of that before they ransomed their futures to get a degree in Whatever Studies.

I don’t want to have a debate about whether or not we need folks with degrees in stuff like French Literature. (Not chosen at random – I know someone with a degree like that.) But we don’t need millions of folks with that degree, and the 1 person I know had to settle for raising his family in backwoods place – granted a college town – where his wife is not happy. That doesn’t count the number of people with like degrees who are working in retail.

If you want to get a college degree in Whatever Studies, that’s great. Figure out how you are going to pay for it outside of “Getting a loan through the Dept. of Education and then having the .gov pay it off.