Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Forty years ago, I read a report concerning the difficulties of protecting my companies equipment, which was to be installed in Air Force One, from a Nuclear EMP. An EMP generated by a high altitude nuclear detonation seemed particularly problematic. It raises concern about our power plants ability to safely shutdown and cool a core after a nuclear generated EMP. Adding to the concern is the fact that all civilian equipment would be inoperative and unable to assist.

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers 2

Nuclear plants are designed with a high degree of passive safety measures, which come in far too many varieties to list here. Basically, the idea is that your systems need to be working correctly in order to maintain power generation. Normal operation involves actively suppressing physical processes that themselves suppress nuclear reactions. When something goes wrong, the reaction quenches itself.

For example, your fuel may be regulated by a neutron absorber whose cross section increases with increasing temperature, thus providing a negative feedback loop on the fuel temperature that necessitates no human intervention nor electronic equipment.

You should also note that the public perception of nuclear plants is way off-base when it comes to their risks. I've encountered many people in the US who legitimately believe that if you look at them the wrong way, most nuclear power plants will overheat and melt through to the core of the Earth (thanks to certain B-list science fiction films); they also believe Three Mile Island and Fukushima killed hundreds of people each. The fact is, the worst thing you can reasonably expect to happen to a nuclear plant not run by the disintegrating remains of the Soviet Union is that it will shut itself off and therefore fail to provide power. Besides, if there were a nuclear explosion close enough and powerful enough to fry all of your electronics, you have far bigger problems than an overheated nuclear plant.

share|improve this answer
1  
While I agree that the public perception of the risks of nuclear power are exaggerated it doesn't help to dismiss the actual risks. The failures at Three Mile Island and Fukushima resulted in billions of dollars of damage to the infrastructure of those plants and in the case of Fukushima did result in significant radioactive contamination of the surrounding area. That's a far cry from 'the worst thing you can expect is failure to provide power'. –  Charles E. Grant Mar 13 '13 at 19:25
    
The local news here did describe the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake and NUCLEAR DISASTER in Japan. –  Martin Beckett Mar 13 '13 at 19:45
add comment

An ElectroMagnetic Pulse (EMP) is generated high in the atmosphere as a hostile act in war, a nuclear detonation generating electromagnetic pulses at three levels, by the 1 MeV gammas of the detonation and their secondary effects, and by displacing the magnetic field of the earth and generating a pulse similar to the solar electromagnetic pulses.

Reactors are built with heavy shields so as to ensure that no radiation from the core escapes to the environment. This means they are also shielded for high energy gammas and secondary xray energies coming from above. In a war situation they should certainly be shielded with an appropriate metal shield for lower frequency electromagnetic pulses.

The only danger could come through surges in incoming power lines, from the area power grid, and if they are properly protected from surges there should be no problem of loss of control.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.