A massive solar storm hit Earth today, bombarding the planet’s magnetic field with charged particles. While the storm is not among the extreme variety, it still carries with it the potential to knock out utility grids and disrupt communications systems.
Some fear that a larger storm could significantly affect nuclear power.
Since 2004, the issue has been on the federal agenda ever since a congressional-appointed expert panel warned of possible catastrophic consequences to plants by geomagnetic currents, reported the New York Times. The threat was deemed “High Impact, Low Probability.”
As the sun is nearing the end of an 11-year cycle, scientists warn that these storms will become more common and increase in magnitude.
Near the end of the last cycle, in 1989, a strong solar storm resulted in a total blackout of Quebec’s Hydro-Quebec grid when, according to the NRC, the “transmission system experienced seven static compensator trips, causing system instability and tripping of lines carrying power… causing frequency and voltage excursions occurred throughout the rest of the system.”
In the United States, a voltage fluctuation of up to 4 percent was recorded on the EHV systems in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, according to the NRC. In the Allegheny Power System, it caused "10 of the 24 transmission class capacitor installations to trip and eight EHV autotransformers to heat.”
An additional storm a few months later caused damage to a large step-up transformer at New Jersey’s Salem Unit 2 plant.
As the current cycle nears its end, the NRC acknowledges that peaks in solar activity "may produce equipment damage, loss of electrical power, and problems with voltage control in transmission systems connected to nuclear power plants."
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