Defence Secretary to focus on solar flare threat to power grids

Defence Secretary Liam Fox is set to highlight the threat to Britain's essential infrastructure, amid warnings by scientists that it could be paralysed by a once-in-a-century solar flare. Dr Fox will be delivering the keynote address to an international conference on the vulnerability of electricity grids around the world to natural disaster and hostile attack.

Earlier this year, the US space agency NASA warned that a peak in the sun's magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could generate huge radiation levels. The resulting solar storm could cause a geomagnetic storm on earth, knocking out electricity grids around the world for hours, days, or even months, bringing much of normal life grinding to halt.

Scientists are said to fear that a similar effect could be achieved by a hostile power exploding a nuclear weapon in space, producing a massive burst of electromagnetic energy known as a high altitude electromagnetic pulse.

In his speech, Dr Fox is expected to highlight the way that modern societies' dependence on technology leaves them vulnerable to such events.

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