Why the Electric Power Research Institute is Wrong About the Peril in an Attack on the Electric Grid

By Dr. William Graham and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry 


After President Trump announced his new National Security Strategy (on Dec. 18) — that for the first time gives deservedly high-priority to protecting the nation’s critical infrastructures from electromagnetic attack — the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) launched a media campaign promoting their bogus studies grossly underestimating threats from electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

EPRI, the Edison Electric Institute and North American Electric Reliability Corporation are funded by electric utilities to serve their political interests.  They churn-out “junk science” studies dismissing or minimizing electromagnetic pulse threats to avoid government regulation requiring EMP protection of electric grids.

The Electric Power Research Institute falsely claims high-altitude electromagnetic pulse attack by a single nuclear weapon could not blackout all or most of the contiguous United States, only a few states would be effected, and few if any transformers would be damaged, giving hope for speedy recovery.

These gravely unwarranted optimistic findings contradict long-standing electromagnetic pulse threat assessments by the Defense Department and recent threat assessments by the Congressional EMP Commission.  The Electric Power Research Institute grossly underestimates electromagnetic pulse field strengths and overestimates grid survivability.

The Electric Power Research Institute’s rosy view of EMP is not only technically unsound, but intellectually dishonest. Its two “EMP experts” — Rob Manning and Randy Horton — have no expertise in electromagnetic pulse phenomenology and effects; never worked professionally on electromagnetic pulse for the Defense Department, intelligence community, or any defense contractor; and either have not had access to classified information, or have ignored classified data contradicting their very benign misrepresentation of the electromagnetic pulse threat.

Strangely for analysts seeking truth about EMP, Mr. Manning and Mr. Horton never asked the EMP Commission to review their work. Indeed, we had to write a letter to the Electric Power Research Institute for a briefing. The EMP Commission warned them their analysis is erroneous — and offered correction.

EPRI ignored the EMP Commission’s offer to help and has proceeded to misinform policymakers and the public with “analysis” they know is wrong.

You don’t have to be an EMP expert to know that EMP is an existential threat.

Real world failures of electric grids from various causes indicate nuclear EMP attack would have catastrophic consequences. Significant and highly disruptive blackouts have been caused by single-point failures cascading into system-wide failures, originating from damage comprising far less than 1 percent of the total system. For example:

• Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 — put 50 million people in the dark for a day, contributed to at least 11 deaths, and cost an estimated $6 billion—originated from a single failure point when a power line contacted a tree branch, damaging less than 0.0000001 (0.00001%) of the system.

• New York City Blackout of 1977, resulted in the arrest of 4,500 looters and injury of 550 police officers, was caused by a lightning strike on a substation tripping two circuit breakers.

• Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, that affected 30 million people, happened because a protective relay on a transmission line was improperly set.

• India’s nationwide blackout of July 30-31, 2012—the largest blackout in history, effecting 670 million people, 9 percent of the world population — was caused by overload of a single high-voltage power line.

• India’s blackout of January 2, 2001— affecting 226 million people — was caused by equipment failure at the Uttar Pradesh substation.

• Indonesia’s blackout of Aug. 18, 2005 — affecting 100 million people — was caused by overload of a high-voltage power line.

• Brazil’s blackout of March 11, 1999—affecting 97 million people—was caused by a lightning strike on an EHV transformer substation.

• Italy’s blackout of Sept. 28, 2003 — affecting 55 million people — was caused by overload of two high-voltage power lines.

• San Francisco blackout in April 2017 was caused by the failure of a single high voltage breaker.

In contrast to the above blackouts caused by single-point or small-scale failures, a nuclear EMP attack would inflict massive widespread damage to the electric grid causing millions of failure points. With few exceptions, the U.S. national electric grid is unhardened and untested against nuclear EMP attack.

In the event of nuclear EMP attack on the United States, a widespread protracted blackout is inevitable.

If Mr. Trump’s National Security Strategy is to be successful protecting our nation from EMP, we recommend:

Obama-holdovers and permanent bureaucrats still obstructing national EMP preparedness embedded in the Department of Defense; Department of Homeland Security; the Department of Energy and the national laboratories at Sandia, Los Alamos and Livermore who are hiding from competent technical review, be fired immediately.

Firings should include Obama-holdovers in: DOD Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense that sabotaged the EMP Commission; DOE’s Office of Electric Reliability that studied EMP endlessly; and the DHS EMP Task Force that ignored the EMP Commission for a year, hiding their identities in a teleconference two days before the Commission ended.

Mr. Trump must immediately order DOD to publish the EMP Commission’s new reports as “unclassified” so accurate information can be provided to policymakers, utilities and the public.

It’s time to “drain the swamp” of electromagnetic pulse naysayers and do-nothings.

• Dr. William Graham was chairman of the congressional EMP Commission, White House science adviser to President Reagan and director of NASA. Dr. PeterVincent Pry was EMP Commission chief of staff and served in the House Armed Services Committee and the CIA.

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