JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Following a frayed relationship with Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to strike America with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack – a move that could cripple the United States’ electric grid. Missouri, as well as other states in America, is vulnerable to EMP attacks.
Specifically, if a high energy nuclear bomb was detonated a high enough altitude above the U.S., the shockwave could overflow our electrical systems and burn out high voltage transformers. Dennis Santiago, a former national security analyst with Rockwell International, writes that such an attack could cripple America’s defense capabilities.
“The goal is to burn out a portion of the three hundred or so high voltage transformers that link the US together as an industrial age economy. By burn out, that means causing the melting of the transformer cores rendering them useless,” Santiago writes in a September Huffington Post article. “There is only one plant that manufactures these types transformers in the US and it does not even make the biggest ones needed for the US grid backbone. These have to come from factories in Europe or China and there’s a multi-year backlog for them.”
So what can Missouri do to protect itself from such an attack? We don’t quite know. But an amendment to SB 190 by Sen. Bill Eigel, wants to change that.
“This was the one that we attached to the utilities legislation, SB 190, that called for a study to be done on the impact and vulnerably to potentially an EMP assault on our grid in Missouri,” Sen. Eigel said. “The study was going to look at, first of all, what kind of damage would something like that do. Secondly, what kind of steps, in terms of physical security, could we take to protect ourselves moving forward.”
He anticipates the study to take one to two years to accomplish and emphasizes the need for physical security of Missouri’s electrical grid. One of the goals of the study is to assess dangers that electricity producing plants face that can range from physical sabotage, electronic hacking, or an EMP attack.
“The first thing that we have to do – and that’s where my study comes in – is identify where we are most vulnerable. Once we identify where we are most vulnerable, whether its an EMP or some sort of physical protection, we can start installing new substations, new distribution centers,” Eigel says. “We can address that so we’re not just thinking about cyber security, but we have a more broad perspective.”
One of the biggest conditions on conducting the study is passing the SB 190: the Missouri Economic Development and Infrastructure Act. The goal of the bill seeks to task private companies to update Missouri’s electric grid, but doing so would raise monthly utility rates and give economic development riders to large companies.
“The problem is that really no utilities legislation has moved through the chamber in some time. Our inability to move anything is impacting,” Eigel said. “We’re going to have to overcome some of the objections to even talking about utilities until we get anywhere.”
According to Eigel, some of the objections he’s seen to SB 190 are worried about a lack of governmental accountability to keep utility rates down. However, because of his personal experience, he feels Ameren can be trusted. “I’ve gotten to know Ameren pretty well: I’ve toured their facilities, I’ve heard about their plans about what they want to as far as restructuring the utilities environment and they’re a great partner for us. They want low rates as much as we want low rates for our customers and consumers.” The Public Service Commission also advocates for consumer protection and helps monitor utilities’ rates.
While Eigel has considered his treat assessment study a separate bill, he feels optimistic about SB 190 passing and thinks it will be easier to add it as an amendment. “We’re going to take a look at both. Certainly, I’ve got increasing hopes that we’re going to get something done on the utilities bill,” Eigel says. “We have some optimism that we’re going to get something done and really that’s the best place for that amendment to go one. That’s my number one hope.”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer