By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 22 Feb 2012 at 08:41

A defence committee has warned the Government it is being “complacent” over space weather and its threat to electronics devices.
In a Defence Committee report – Developing Threats: Electro-Magnetic Pulses (EMP) – officials were warned that the UK was ill-prepared to deal with the effects of electromagnetic pulses from either weather or weapons.
A strong pulse could, the report claimed, take out the GPS system, which is relied upon by the the military and financial industry. A pulse could also disrupt electricity supplies and communications networks.
“The reactive posture described by the Government appears somewhat complacent,” said committee chair James Arbuthnot. “Space weather is a global threat and may affect many regions and countries simultaneously. It is time that the Government began to approach this matter with the seriousness it deserves.”
The committee said the UK’s dependence on its electronic infrastructure meant that any interruption of services could prove “catastrophic” and take a long time to put right, because replacing equipment would be difficult and time-consuming, with insufficient spare parts.
“The consequences might be long-term, widespread and catastrophic, and because of the interdependency of the systems which are likely to be affected, the current recovery plans may be of little value,” the report found.
High risk?
The threat of EMP disruption is nothing new – and has been a concern since the 1850s – but research into space weather suggests the risk is growing. “Severe space weather, which might cause geomagnetic storms impacting the Earth’s magnetosphere, has been the subject of extensive research over the past year,” the report found.
“The likelihood of a severe space weather event is assessed to be moderate to high over the next five years, with the potential to cause damage to electrically conducting systems such as power grids, pipelines and signalling circuits.”

Defence Committee – Tenth Report
Developing Threats: Electro-Magnetic Pulses (EMP)


Here you can browse the report together with the Proceedings of the Committee. The published report was ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 8 February 2012.


Terms of Reference

Conclusions and recommendations

1 Introduction
The threat
How likely?
The inquiry

2 Nature of the threat
Space weather
The probability
Potential impact on electronic infrastructure
High Altitude Nuclear EMP Weapons (HEMP)
The EMP components
Practical experience
Potential impact on electronic infrastructure
Non-Nuclear EMP

3 Resilience
Forecasting space weather
Protecting civil infrastructure
Strengthening the systems
Advice to the public

4 The MoD and EMP
MoD resilience to EMP events
Responsibility in the MoD
MoD role in responding to an emergency

5 Satellite security

6 Responsibility in Government

7 Conclusion
Formal Minutes
List of written evidence
List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament