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Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”, Nasa has warned.
By Andrew Hough Published: 1:00PM BST 14 Jun 2010
National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years.
Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.
Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.
Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.
“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” said Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa's Heliophysics division.
“It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.
“Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.”
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he added: “Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar affect.”
A “space weather” conference in Washington DC last week, attended by Nasa scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials, was told of similar warnings.
While scientists have previously told of the dangers of the storm, Dr Fisher’s comments are the most comprehensive warnings from Nasa to date.
Dr Fisher, 69, said the storm, which will cause the Sun to reach temperatures of more than 10,000 F (5500C), occurred only a few times over a person’s life.
Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.
Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.
He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he admitted that was unlikely.
A more likely scenario was that large areas, including northern Europe and Britain which have “fragile” power grids, would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly even days.
He said preparations were similar to those in a hurricane season, where authorities knew a problem was imminent but did not know how serious it would be.
“I think the issue is now that modern society is so dependant on electronics, mobile phones and satellites, much more so than the last time this occurred,” he said.
“There is a severe economic impact from this. We take it very seriously. The economic impact could be like a large, major hurricane or storm.”
The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications could “all be knocked out by intense solar activity”.
It warned a powerful solar storm could cause “twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina”. That storm devastated New Orleans in 2005 and left an estimated damage bill of more than $125bn (£85bn).
Dr Fisher said precautions could be taken including creating back up systems for hospitals and power grids and allow development on satellite “safe modes”.
“If you know that a hazard is coming … and you have time enough to prepare and take precautions, then you can avoid trouble,” he added.
His division, a department of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC, which investigates the Sun’s influence on the earth, uses dozens of satellites to study the threat
The government has said it was aware of the threat and “contingency plans were in place” to cope with the fall out from such a storm
These included allowing for certain transformers at the edge of the National Grid to be temporarily switched off and to improve voltage levels throughout the network.
The National Risk Register, established in 2008 to identify different dangers to Britain, also has “comprehensive” plans on how to handle a complete outage of electricity supplies.
Barack Obama has compared the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to the September 11 terrorist attacks as he began a tour of the region.
Published: 5:10PM BST 14 Jun 2010 In an interview with the Washington-based news organisation Politico, Mr Obama vowed to push for a radical overhaul of US energy policy that would reduce America's addiction to foreign oil and dangerously deep drilling.
"In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come," Mr Obama said.
"One of the biggest leadership challenges for me going forward is going to be to make sure that we draw the right lessons from this disaster."
The comments came as BP's shares on Monday fell 10 per cent in afternoon trading in London on investor fears about the final bill for the spill and whether it will pay its quarterly dividend. The shares later clawed back about one per cent.
After visiting Alabama, Mississippi and Florida for the first time since the disaster began eight weeks ago, the president will seek to regain control of the narrative with his first address to the nation from the Oval Office.
American presidents reserve the formal setting of such prime-time televised addresses for moments of national crises, including wars and disasters.
The Politico interview indicated Mr Obama will use the storied platform on Tuesday evening to implore Congress to pass a major energy and climate bill, showing the tragic events in the Gulf can be a vehicle for positive change.
He pledged to "move forward in a bold way in a direction that finally gives us the kind of future-oriented ... visionary energy policy that we so vitally need and has been absent for so long."
Mr Obama will then meet BP bosses at the White House on Wednesday in an attempt to win important concessions on setting up an escrow account to pay spill claims and an independent panel to oversee the process.
His administration has launched an aggressive campaign in recent days to show it is in command of the response to the spill, firing off a volley of letters to BP and making a series of stringent demands.
BP met a 48-hour ultimatum Sunday to present a new plan to roughly triple the amount of oil it is capturing from a ruptured Gulf of Mexico well by the end of June, to more than 50,000 barrels, 2.1 million gallons, a day.
The oil company is currently siphoning up about 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship on the surface, about half the amount believed to be streaming into the Gulf.
In its letter, BP outlined plans to reinforce efforts to suck up the oil by bringing a vessel for producing and storing oil from South America, two additional tankers from Europe and a 3,800-foot, six-inch flexible pipe from Brazil.
The annual cost to the taxpayer of funding public sector pensions will more than double in the next five years to £4,000 per household, the Office for Budget Responsibility has disclosed.
By Andrew Porter, Political Editor Published: 9:27PM BST 14 Jun 2010 By 2015, almost £10 billion of public money will be spent every year supporting the retirement of millions of public sector employees – up from £4 billion this year, the independent body said.
In a speech on Monday, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the pensions were simply "not affordable". The pension burden will almost certainly lead to higher taxes or greater cuts to public sector spending.
The OBR report – the first it has produced since it was established by George Osborne – set out the expected rises as part of a comprehensive examination of the state of public finances.
In 2010-11, the amount spent by the taxpayer on public sector pensions will be £4 billion, rising to £5.5 billion the following year, the report said.
The cost will then rise, on average, by 20 per cent each year until the commitment reaches £9.4 billion in 2014-15. This equates to almost £4,000 for each of Britain's 26 million households. The sharp increase, according to the Treasury, is a result of Britain's ageing population.
More people who have already retired are living longer and there is now a growing number of public sector workers who are retiring. There are also almost a million more public sector workers than a decade ago. Within hours of the publication of the report, Mr Clegg attacked the gold-plated pension schemes, signalling that the Coalition Government would have to tackle the problem soon.
The Government indicated last week that the pensions would be targeted in a spending review.
In a clear hint that measures will be announced in next week's emergency Budget, Mr Clegg said: "Private sector workers have already seen final salary schemes close, while returns from defined contribution schemes fall.
"So can we really ask them to keep paying their taxes into unreformed gold-plated public sector pension pots? It's not just unfair, it's not affordable.
"As we face up to living within our means, we cannot ignore a spending area which will more than double within five years."
In the past, public sector workers were paid less to reflect the higher value of their other perks, particularly pensions.
In recent years, however, the average public sector salary has overtaken its private sector equivalent.
There are more than two million public sector workers receiving pensions from "unfunded" schemes.
The schemes are heavily supported by the taxpayer, with employees generally contributing less than their counterparts in the private sector.
The OBR pointed out that the total liabilities of public sector pensions hit £770 billion in 2008. The National Audit Office has estimated that, by 2019-20, annual pension payments to retired public sector staff will be worth £35 billion.
In the past nine years, total pension costs have increased by 38 per cent.
A commission into public sector remuneration is under way, led by Will Hutton, the Left-leaning head of the Work Foundation. However, his study will concentrate on pay rather than pensions.
Treasury sources last night made it clear that the “eye-watering” figures included in the OBR report meant that drastic action was needed.
The OBR also downgraded forecasts for economic growth. Instead of the predicted 3 to 3.5 per cent estimate that Alistair Darling suggested in his last Budget, the OBR predicted growth would be 2.6 per cent next year.
Mr Osborne, the Chancellor, will use the worse than expected figures as the backdrop of his Budget a week today. A £12 billion “black hole” exposed by the detailed report from the OBR means he may have to find £2.4 billion extra in taxes.
Mr Osborne’s aides said he would stick to his stated aim of dividing the required revenue-raising between spending cuts and tax rises using an 80-20 split. Many experts expect VAT to be increased from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent or more.
In the Commons there were angry exchanges between Alistair Darling and Mr Osborne.
The OBR report did show that borrowing would be £8 billion lower than previously forecast at £155 billion.
The former chancellor demanded an apology over Mr Osborne and David Cameron’s assertion that the Labour government had misled people over the scale of the economic problems facing Britain.
Read a full match report of the World Cup 2010 Group F game between Italy and Paraguay at Green Point Stadium, Cape Town on Monday June 14 2010.
In a World Cup that is developing the narrative of a goalkeepers’ nightmare, Paraguay’s Justo Villar emulated Robert Green and Algeria’s Faouzi Chaouchi with a costly error that spared Italy a defeat in their first game in the defence of their title.
Having fallen behind to Antolin Alcaraz’s first-half opener, Italy appeared on course to suffer the fate of Argentina in 1990 and France in 2002 with an opening defeat as world champions.
But Villar, the Paraguay captain, gifted Italy a point by terribly misjudging Pepe’s corner to allow Daniele De Rossi to score a face-saving equaliser on 63 minutes.
Italy’s warm memories of their procession to a fourth World Cup in Germany four years ago, when their success was earned during a German heatwave, would probably have been blown away as soon as Marcelo Lippi’s players opened their curtains on Monday morning to be greeted by the kind of greyness associated with a January morning in Manchester. Or Milan, for that matter.
The Cape Doctor, the fabled south-easterly wind which delivers the icy chill of the south Atlantic to Cape Town, had done its best to bring winter to the Mother City in time for the world champions’ first game in the defence of their trophy.
Incessant wind and rain battered the Green Point Stadium throughout the day before growing in intensity as the game kicked off in front a crowd of multi-coloured raincoats. It was as though somebody had emptied a giant bag of Skittles, save for the grey ones. They were the empty seats, a developing curse of South Africa 2010.
Whether it was the weather or their four day wait to get the defence of their title underway, Italy appeared ill at ease from the start against the Paraguayans.
A crude challenge by Cristian Riveros on Riccardo Montilivo inside the opening sixty seconds certainly gave the Italians warning of Paraguay’s intent and, missing the injured playmaker Andrea Pirlo, Lippi’s players struggled to impose themselves on Gerardo Martino’s team.
Pirlo’s absence robbed the Italians of their creative heartbeat, the player whose economical use of the ball proved so crucial in Germany four years.
And although they dominated possession in the first-half, Italy were unable to do anything with it.
Paraguay still had to resist some dangerous set-piece deliveries into their penalty area, with Antolin Alcaraz clearing a dangerous Pepe free-kick at the far post before an even more crucial interception to direct a Claudio Marchisio corner over the crossbar.
Lacking the powerful attacking presence provided Luca Toni and Christian Vieiri in recent World Cups, Italy were unable to take advantage of their probing crosses and Paraguay stunned Lippi’s team by snatching the lead through Alcaraz six minutes before half-time.
The defender, whose free transfer move from Club Brugge to Wigan was completed by the astute Roberto Martinez last month, outjumped the Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro to head Aureliano Torres’s free-kick beyond the stretching Gianluigi Buffon.
Buffon, who opted to turn out with black tights under his shorts, was then replaced by substitute goalkeeper Federico Marchetti at half-time due to a suspected injury.
Paraguay, who secured third place behind Brazil and Chile in the South American qualifiers, might lack the thoroughbred power of their more celebrated continental rivals, but their confidence grew following Alcaraz’s goal and they came close to extending their lead when Enrique Vera’s right-foot effort flew narrowly wide of the near post on 55 minutes.
That escape prompted Lippi to replace the ineffective Marchisio with the experience of Mauro Camoranesi and the Juventus midfielder immediately added an energy and presence to the Azzurri midfield.
Italy’s equaliser was a result of good fortune rather than an inspired change on Lippi’s part. Had Villar been able to collect Pepe’s corner, the Italians would have been left to continue to scratch around in search of a goal.
But Villar didn’t collect the corner. He missed it completely, his left arm outstretched like a Superman imitator as the ball flew past and dropped to De Rossi, who powerfully bundled it into the back of the net.
Another keeper, another gaffe. But just like Green and Chaouchi, Villar only has himself to blame.