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MPs ask for defence against space attacks on UK

High-altitude nuclear EMPs, space weather could knock out communications
Wed Feb 22 2012, 13:06

THE UK IS AT RISK from nuclear weapons detonated in space that could knock out key communications and technology systems, a group of MPs has warned.

satelliteThe Defence Select Committee report (PDF) argued that with key services in the UK interlinked, such as energy supplies, water processing, traffic control systems, GPS, and even financial services, more needs to be done to assess the threat that an attack could pose.

"A single nuclear weapon detonated between 25-500 miles above the Earth could create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) with the potential to cause severe damage to technology over a wide geographical area, the area depending on the height of the detonation," it said.

The report also noted that rogue states such as Iran and North Korea appear well aware of the potential disruptions such attacks could cause. The report urged the government to take the threat seriously.

"The government cannot be complacent about this threat and must keep its assessment of the risk under review. It is vitally important that the work of hardening UK infrastructure is begun now and carried out as a matter of urgency," the report concluded.

Committee chairman James Arbuthnot said that at present the group does not believe the government is heeding this warning.

"We are concerned the government does not regard EMP from a nuclear blast as currently being a high risk and so we urge that more vigorous action should be taken to prepare for such an attack," he said.

"Similarly, an urgent reassessment should be made of the risk from non-nuclear EMP attack on vital national facilities."

The report also considered the impact of naturally occurring risks, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), noting examples from the past that have affected electrical systems in Canada and in New Jersey in the US.

"Resilience to space weather events is routinely built into some components of infrastructure, such as satellites, which are frequently exposed to its effects. However, events vary in intensity, and the potential impact of a severe event could be devastating," it said.

The report also mentioned the so-called Carrington CME incident that occurred in the northern hemisphere in 1859 and was reported to have sent huge electrical currents through the telegraph system. µ

 

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