EMP and Nuclear Reactors

A recent news item announces the success of a small-scale electromagnetic pulse weapon mounted in a cruise missile and used to selectively disable electronics in particular buildings. While this directed EMP generator is being developed for military purposes, imagine this weapon deployed against nuclear reactors, none of which are hardened against this sort of attack. As we saw in Fukushima, reactors which lose every source of power will self-destruct.

A nuclear HEMP (high altitude EMP) would simultaneously destroy dozens of reactors, possibly causing them to spew radioactive dust across the countryside. It’s a shame that such a reliable and self-contained source of energy has been designed with no consideration of the hazard of EMP. A high priority going forward is to choose reactor designs which are safe when all the lights go out, and which can be restarted without off-site power after replacing damaged electronics.

5 thoughts on “EMP and Nuclear Reactors

    • A year or two ago I went to a talk by someone from NuScale Power, and I asked just that question. The speaker replied that no nuclear reactor was hardened against this threat. Mark’s link shows that since that time the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has at least begun thinking about this concern. However, the Commission seems to have concluded that “if failure occurred, it would likely be only momentary (i.e., trip breakers, etc.) and the failed equipment could be restored to service to continue core heat removal.” I don’t know whether that supposition is supported by any sort of testing or is just wishful thinking.

  1. I too think you are over simplifying and overstating the danger. The actual reaction process would be automatically shut off after an emp event as the control rods are held over the reactor using electromagnets. Loss of power means reactor shuts itself off. of course, cooling the reactor would be difficult, but it could be done.
    the EMP would not immediately destroy the plant

    • I’m glad to hear about the electromagnets. Still, the disastrous release of radioactive dust from Fukushima resulted from a loss of power, and occurred in spite of everything that was done to try to prevent it.

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