Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 112



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Defence Committee

on Wednesday 9 November 2011

Members present:

Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)

Mr Julian Brazier

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson

John Glen

Mr Dai Havard

Mrs Madeleine Moon

Sandra Osborne

Bob Russell

Ms Gisela Stuart

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Richard Horne, British Antarctic Survey, Dr David Kerridge, British Geological Society, Avi Schnurr, Chairman and CEO, EIS Council, and Chris Train, Network Operations Director, National Grid, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Thank you all very much for coming to give evidence. We are holding an inquiry into developing threats to the electronic infrastructure. You are most welcome to the Committee.

I must begin by shaping expectations. This will be a brief evidence session, and this will be a one-evidence-session inquiry. During the course of this morning, I am afraid that several members of the Committee will have to go out to ask questions elsewhere. Nevertheless, I believe, as do several other Committee members, that this is an extremely important issue, and its importance is not limited by the amount of oral evidence we will be able to take this morning.

We will need to be crisp in our questions, and I would be grateful if you could be crisp in your answers. Do not feel you need to answer every question, unless a question is addressed to you or you have a particular knowledge of it. May I begin by asking you to introduce yourselves? Mr Schnurr, would you like to begin?

Avi Schnurr: I am Avi Schnurr. I am the co-ordinator of the electric infrastructure security summit process, which has been working to bring together a number of nations and allies-

Chair: Can I ask you to speak up, please?

Avi Schnurr: I am Avi Schnurr, the co-ordinator of the electric infrastructure security process-the international framework that has been working to bring countries together at the governmental level to consider these issues. I am also the CEO and chairman of the EIS Council.

Q2 Chair: And EIS stands for?

Avi Schnurr: Electronic Infrastructure Security.

Chris Train: I am Chris Train, Network Operations Director at National Grid. I am responsible for the real-time operation of the electricity transmission grid and the gas transmission grid.

Professor Horne: I am Richard Horne. I am a scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, which is part of the Natural Environment Research Council. I am also an honorary professor at the University of Sheffield. I am here as a scientist with particular expertise in the space aspects of space weather, and I also lead an international project called SPACECAST, which helps forecast space weather for satellites.

Dr Kerridge: I am David Kerridge from the British Geological Survey, which is also a component body of the Natural Environment Research Council. I am director of geoscience research there and have a particular responsibility for natural hazards. My background is in geomagnetism, where I have worked on applying science to real-world problems, including working with ScottishPower and National Grid on geomagnetically induced currents. I have been involved with two groups set up in the last year-the Natural Hazards Partnership, which is led by the Met Office, and the Space Environment Impacts Group, which has advised the Cabinet Office on the national risk assessment.

Q3 Chair: If a space weather event of the size of the Carrington event of 1859 were to occur tomorrow, what would be the likely impact on UK infrastructure, given that we are now much more reliant on electronic infrastructure than we were in the 1850s?

Avi Schnurr: I could offer a brief summary of the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences NASA-funded study that addressed that question. It looked at the potential impact on the United States, but it is fair to say that, given its location, the conclusions about the United Kingdom would certainly not be better. The study’s conclusion was that, in such an event, there would be a risk of cascading infrastructure failures, which would be caused by either immediate or short-term damage to extremely high-voltage transformers. The level of damage would be such that the study projected that there would be a risk of a black out affecting about 130 million people in the north-east of the United States. According to Joe McClelland, who is the director of the Office of Electric Reliability for FERC-the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission-his organisation has estimated, based on the study that it did to follow the NASA study, that the duration of the impact would be five to 10 years. That was associated with the long lead procurement times for these very large, expensive, extremely high-voltage transformers.

Q4 Chair: Is there anything there with which any of you disagree?

Chris Train: That is the analysis of the United States electrical infrastructure. There are some significant differences in the formulation of the infrastructure here in the United Kingdom. Having done a similar piece of modelling work following the concerns that were raised around a Carrington-sized event, we have been working along with our partners-the BGS and Manchester University and others-looking at what the potential impacts would be here in the UK.

Because of the meshed infrastructure here in the UK, we believe that the impact would not be as great here. The effort that we have been putting in has been around operation mitigations following a coronal mass ejection to understand how we might manage the system to minimise the impact of the potential in such an event. But I do not think that it would have the same catastrophic cascading effect that would happen in the United States because of the different nature of the configuration and development of the networks.

Q5 Chair: Have you worked out with the United States why you have come to such a different conclusion?

Chris Train: We have modelled the UK system. We have been in discussions. Have we finalised differences in modelling? I think that that is not the case. The second area is that there is more work to do, looking at the vulnerability of power generators and transformers. Through the Emergency Executive Committee, we are working with the power generators so that we can model the potential effects to their equipment so that we can get a better and fuller understanding of the total risk across the UK.

Q6 Chair: So that modelling has not yet been done?

Chris Train: That piece of modelling is under way at the moment.

Q7 Chair: So it has not yet been done?

Chris Train: It has not yet been done.

Q8 Chair: Mr Schnurr, do you agree with Mr Train that the impact in the United Kingdom would be less severe than in the United States?

Avi Schnurr: There is no question but that there will be differences. Incidentally, it is outstanding that this initial modelling was done. Perhaps I would be corrected if I were wrong, but, based on my conversations with some of the people who have been doing the work at National Grid, my understanding was that the modelling was done by an outside consultant based on some general assumptions that were made. That is an excellent start, and certainly in the United States similar work was done to begin thinking about the process.

A conversation similar to this occurred in the United States, which was mediated by National Labs and the Department of Homeland Security, which talked to transformer manufacturers. Again, some general assumptions were made about capability of transformers in terms of what is called GIC withstand-the capability of one of the big transformers to withstand ground-induced currents that occur in such an event. After making some encouraging observations, the transformer manufacturer involved was asked, "Would you be willing to certify that all your transformers would survive such an event?" The response was, "To really understand what is necessary is to see whether or not there is magnetic flux leakage into support structures. What that magnetic flux leakage does in terms of its detailed thermal and electrical effects, we would have to review and model the as-built design for every transformer, the detailed electrical modelling and the very detailed finite-element thermal modelling." At that time, they suggested it would cost $50,000 per transformer.

Q9 Chair: I will have to stop you there. You are going into a realm of technology that we are not as fully up on as you are. I take it, though, that you do not fully agree with Mr Train that the United Kingdom would be more resilient than the United States.

Avi Schnurr: Based on my discussions with the people and their cursory review, they are concerned that the modelling that was done was sufficiently general that it would not capture the detailed transformer problems.

Q10 Chair: Thank you. That’s what I wanted to know. I need-

Chris Train: May I make some points on that? There are some-

Chair: All right, but be snappy in your points, if you would.

Chris Train: I’ll be very snappy. There are some fundamental differences in the US infrastructure. For example, it is a much larger geographical area, with long, long lines, which exacerbates the effect of the GICs.

Q11 Chair: GICs being ground-induced currents.

Chris Train: Yes, ground-induced currents, which are the thing that causes the problem with the transformers. By inducing a current into the core of the transformer, you heat the core of the transformer. Another critical aspect is the amount of loading that the transformer is under at the point where the GIC has an impact. The issues include the length of lines, size of geography and nature of the relationship within the substation. A higher frequency-60 Hz-network means a bigger impact than a 50 Hz network. Single-phase transformers are more vulnerable than multi-phase transformers. There are a number of fundamental differences in the architecture and topology of the UK infrastructure as compared with the US.

Chair: Thank you. I shall now hand over to Dai Havard, Vice-Chair.

Q12 Mr Havard: On the question of the UK’s assessment, you said earlier it’s fine. What about the recovery period, and what within that modelling takes account of the interrelationship between the UK infrastructure and supply and, say, France and what’s happening in the European countries? What’s the recovery period as far as the UK assessment is concerned?

Chris Train: As far as the UK is concerned, we’ve looked at where our vulnerable transformers are, which is part of the detailed modelling work, along with the-

Dr Kerridge: BGS.

Chris Train: BGS. Thank you. I got my acronym and my mind the wrong way round. So we know which are our vulnerable transformers. As we’ve gone into solar cycle 24, we’ve increased our level of stockholding of transformers. If we lose a transformer, it takes in the order of two to three months to replace it, should we have a spare. Part of Avi’s description concerns the need to go to manufacturers, which obviously have limited capacity.

The other aspect is that we operate to a level of resilience on the network, so we would not see the same level of disruption. We would expect that in some instances there could be minor disruptions for a number of months. In some instances, there may be no disruption at all. It depends on the size, scale and impact of the-

Q13 Mr Havard: Right, so if it’s localised in the south-east of England and intense, it’s one set of relationships; if it’s in Scotland and more localised, it’s a different thing. I understand that, but in terms of your general planning, what would be the recovery period? Could you have things back up and running normally in six months?

Chris Train: In two to three months.

Q14 Chair: How many spares do you have?

Chris Train: That is not a relevant question. The question is, what level of risk have we been assessing our spares holding against? We have modelled what we believe the level of risk to be, we have looked at the transformers that we have on the network and we have looked at our spares holding in order to manage that risk. In an integrated network, the routes and the route planning are the critical element, so if you have a problem at a node, you can move the energy flows through a different part of the network. The issue is what happens if you get a concentrated level on a particular node in the network. We believe that we have the right holding to manage that risk.

Q15 Ms Stuart: What percentage of your system is at risk?

Chris Train: Again, it doesn’t work-

Q16 Ms Stuart: Single figures? Double figures? It does work-

Chair: Allow him to answer, because that may not work as a question.

Chris Train: In terms of numbers, you are talking of the order of 10 to 20 transformers out of a population of around 800 transformers on the network.

Q17 Sandra Osborne: Even so, it is quite difficult for a lay person to imagine the scenario that you are talking about. What is the likelihood of a large geomagnetic storm actually happening?

Chris Train: The others may comment on this, but obviously it is a high impact, low probability event that we are talking about. The Carrington event is believed to be somewhere around a one in 100-year or one in 150-year event.

Professor Horne: We have very big storms which occur every year; it is a question of the severity. For example, of magnetic storms of type moderate or larger, at a minimum we have something like 10 per year, which may rise to something like 60 per year during the solar maximum of the 11-year sunspot cycle. We measure the sunspot cycle-solar activity in terms of sunspots which has an 11-year cycle.

Of a storm of the size of the 1859 Carrington storm, the largest one on record, we really have no way of saying when such a large storm would occur again. The point is that something that big has occurred in the past; it can occur again in the future. That is where we are. It is perhaps more likely to occur during a period of sunspot maximum, which is what we are moving into over the next few years, but we cannot say exactly when.

Dr Kerridge: Could I add to that that we have been measuring the magnetic field happily for more than 150 years, so we have a good record of the types of event that occur? While the Carrington event is taken as the most extreme, it is in a family and the statistics of that family indicate, as Mr Train has said, that the Carrington event might be of the order of a one in 100-year or one in 200-year event, but the question we are talking about is risk assessment. We are describing the geophysical hazard there, and the other part of the risk is, of course, the change in vulnerability that we are addressing here. It is not only that Carrington can be taken as the reasonable worst-case scenario, but there is a family of other events that come into play when vulnerability increases.

Another project we are involved in involves Europe, because of the concern about the increasing interconnectedness between grids. So we have a European project looking at this.

As a point of information, GICs are geomagnetically-induced currents.

Q18 Chair: Geomagnetically-induced currents?

Dr Kerridge: Yes. In effect, we have a terrestrial transformer. There are intense currents in the magnetic storm about 100 km up, and they are linked to the ground by the magnetic field, which creates the electric field in the ground that then, when you put the conducting system on top of it, pumps the currents into that conducting system.

Chair: Thank you very much.

Q19 Sandra Osborne: What is your perception of the understanding of the risks within Government and the key industries that would be affected?

Dr Kerridge: There has been a great acceleration over the past year in the way we have addressed this problem. The event about a year ago, which Mr Schnurr led, led a few of us to sit down and say, "How can we better organise ourselves to address this problem?" As a result of that, in October 2010 we began something that we have termed the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group. At the same time, there had been developing through the Met Office, the Ordnance Survey and the Environment Agency a natural hazards partnership. Those two things have developed quite quickly to look particularly at space weather and other hazards. Each of those has the support of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office. So the latest development is to advise on the national risk assessment for the space weather end of the hazards and to provide advice to the Government Office for Science.

Q20 Chair: Do you all agree? Okay.

Q21 Mrs Moon: I would like to move to high-altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse bursts. What effect might one of those have on UK infrastructure?

Avi Schnurr: This is an interesting area, which is well understood. For 55 years, the United Kingdom, the United States and most of the developed world have spent an enormous amount of money on it in almost every military organisation. The United States Department of Defense has spent hundreds of billions of dollars addressing the issue over many years.

What is new about this, as you asked, is the question of the effect on civilian infrastructures. The best answer I can give is to summarise the conclusions of two different studies. The US Congress established an EMP commission, which provided an executive summary report after four years. At the end of eight years, two years ago, it provided a broader set of conclusions. Another study was done, supervised by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and FERC, with participation by review of the White House and the Department of Defense.

Both studies reached the same conclusions, basically. Even for a country the size of the United States, with one or two nuclear detonations-east coast, west coast, depending on how it was done-which could be relatively small, the impact would risk what they call cascading infrastructure failures, which would leave the United States without electrical power. We talk about severe space weather, relatively long-term, ground-induced or geomagnetically induced currents-that same effect is true with an EMP strike.

There is an additional effect called an E1 pulse, which is very fast and can be thought of as equivalent to a lightning strike, but one that strikes everywhere in a broad geographic region, at higher intensity and much faster. So you cannot achieve protection with lightning rods, for example, for something like this. In the case of E1, in addition to the risk to transformers, which we have discussed, one has to try to reach conclusions, depending on the level and detail of analysis. In addition to the effect over a broad region, we would expect damage to electronics, computers and, most importantly, to command-and-control systems, because, these days, the electric grid and other critical electronic infrastructures are managed by many very complex command-and-control systems, with hundreds of computers in each.

The report from the commission and the technical report that I referred to both concluded that there would likely be sufficient damage to control systems to bring down the electronics. The scope of the damage and the extent, relative to the labour available to go and find the problems, would be substantially more than could be resolved or recovered from in any normal sense. So we would expect the electric grid to go down and, concurrently, we would expect the failure of water supplies, fuel, transport, communications, medical care and financial services-one could go into more detail. It is not simply the control systems and the computer controls. There are also issues and concerns with relays and diagnostic systems. A small percentage of insulators on transmission lines are expected to fail, based on the research done. Unfortunately, given the number of insulators on each transmission line, even a small percentage would be expected to bring down most or all the transmission lines. There are many different kinds of failures with the electric system. Of course, you have a similar problem with computer-intensive infrastructures.

Chair: May I stop you for a moment? There may be things that one member of the panel says, with which others disagree. At the end of the session, once the evidence has gone up on the internet and you have had a chance to read it, please write to the Committee with any points of disagreement or clarification. That will save you-unless it is absolutely essential-during the course of the evidence session from saying, "That is absolute rubbish." I did not see a facial expression indicating that what Mr Schnurr was suggesting was absolute rubbish.

Mrs Moon: Actually, I think it was a very full answer.

Q22 Mr Brazier: I have a question for Mr Schnurr that is right on the edges of what we are discussing. It seems there is an opportunity here. I remember in cold war days the importance of disconnecting the aerial from the radio, because of the threat of losing it through the electromagnetic pulse. Is this potentially a threat to all the air assets that happen to be in the air that do not have manual back-up systems? Would that include anything remotely piloted or fly-by-wire or whatever? Could an EMP simply fry the electronics of everything?

Avi Schnurr: It is a threat. I think it is less of a threat for, say, aircraft and aeroplanes than it might otherwise be, because typically you have the electronics surrounded by a conductor to some extent, due to the shell of the aircraft. Aircraft have to be protected to a degree against things such as radar signals, which are similar in extent. That said, even for aircraft and, given those considerations, there would be a risk that would have to be evaluated.

Certainly, you would expect the air traffic control system to go down. The nature of this effect is not that all electronics are destroyed or damaged; it is a percentage of electronics that will be destroyed or damaged. The problem tends to come when you have complex control systems in which, if you have a significant number of failures, the whole control system tends to fail. Our control systems were not designed as war fighters in general. Even for civilian infrastructures-aircraft and other things-if you have enough failures, everything simply stops working.

Q23 Mrs Moon: How much awareness of this potential risk is there among academics and key industries? Is it something that everybody is talking about, or is there only a niche interest?

Avi Schnurr: Perhaps this would be a good way to answer that. The day before yesterday I was in Brussels, where I was asked to give a briefing to the Assistant Secretaries-General of NATO. We went over this subject and one of them commented, "This is interesting, because on the one hand this is really an emerging threat, because we have not considered the impact on our civilian infrastructures. On the other hand, this is something we round this table are all familiar with, because EMP has been a military issue for a very long time."

So, there is very little awareness, unfortunately, even though-or perhaps because-it has been a military issue. The civilian sides of government and those concerned with civilian infrastructures have tended to have the luxury of simply saying, "EMP is a military issue. We’ll leave it to the defence people." It is really only in the past three to four years that this has begun to be understood and discussed by the civilian sides of government as a serious threat. Incidentally, it is not so much the EMP itself; it is more the rapidly escalating vulnerability of our increasingly complex computer-controlled infrastructures.

Q24 John Glen: Given the potentially catastrophic impact, could you explain to what extent you feel these high-altitude EMP weapons could affect the UK? What is the credibility of this threat? There is a lot of analysis of what could happen, but could you explain how credible the threat is so that we can begin to understand the levels of risk that we are dealing with here? For many people it seems quite a remote and new topic, but it is this credibility of the threat that we really want to understand.

Avi Schnurr: I will point to two groups that I have mentioned previously. There was a NATO weapons of mass destruction conference in Bergen, Norway last summer. The conference opened with a statement by the Secretary-General of NATO, in which he made the point that NATO is concerned about the rapid growth in proliferation worldwide. There are several reasons why this is occurring and is expected to continue. In general, I would say, from the global perspective, that that is the risk. There was an attempt using sanctions, for example, to prevent both Pakistan and India from acquiring nuclear weapons-clearly that failed. There was such an attempt to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons-that seems to have failed.

We can see what is going on today around the world, and interest in nuclear power is a well known precursor of the development of nuclear weapons-it can be such a precursor. Interest in developing nuclear power has been increasing very rapidly around the world, including in the Gulf states and the Middle East, in states that are rather surprising because you would not expect such a need for nuclear power. In a global sense, the proliferation risk is here. In order to ignore this, I believe, from my perspective, one would have to reach a conclusion that it is unlikely that any enemy of the free world, the west, would ever elect to use this at any point in the foreseeable future. The window to address it, to put protection in place, tends to be three to five years.

Q25 John Glen: So there isn’t a credible threat now, but there could be in the near future?

Avi Schnurr: I would say that the issue to think about is: is there a possibility that in future we could have a rogue state, a transnational terrorist group or even a situation in which there is someone who may not be totally under the control of the Government? I will give you a specific example. The congressional EMP commission said that their primary concern was a ship-launched nuclear missile. They were more concerned about transnational terrorists than rogue nations. The reason, they said, is, "We know that transnational terrorist groups have ships. We know that they have missiles. Given a ship and a missile, it is a question of whether they can acquire a small warhead." We know that there are specific countries out there. Iran, for example, recently announced-I believe the announcement came from the commander of the Iranian navy-that they have already installed missile launchers on their logistics vessels and that they plan to base them in the Atlantic.

Is there a current concern? When you look at the consequence if, for example-given boats, given the potential will to use them and given missiles-a warhead somehow gets into the wrong hands, there would be a level of destruction that is referred to by the commissions that have looked at this in the United States as "affecting the continuity of the United States as a nation." If there was damage of this potential with a single bullet, or two bullets, so to speak-in the case of a country the size of the United Kingdom, I think, unfortunately, you would have to worry about one-even a short-range missile launched from a boat would be an extremely severe concern. The level of impact has to be looked at for current concerns.

Q26 Chair: The Government have given us some written evidence, which you will not have seen. In it, they say: "To generate more widespread damage from EMP, a nuclear warhead would have to be detonated at high altitude to generate the EMP from the interaction between the radiation from the weapon and the outer layers of the atmosphere. This could only be achieved by launching a device by missile to an altitude of several tens of kilometres. A limited number of States possess this capability." I think that that was intended to be reassuring. Do you believe that Iran is one of the states that possesses that capability?

Avi Schnurr: Yes. Unfortunately, the list of states and terrorist groups that possess that capability is far longer than would leave me in a state of comfort. Let’s put it that way. We are talking about tens of kilometres, which is accurate. Not many tens of kilometres would provide a pulse that would cover the United Kingdom.

Q27 Chair: And Iran has that capability?

Avi Schnurr: Iran definitely has that capability. So does Hezbollah.

Q28 Chair: So does Hezbollah?

Avi Schnurr: Yes.

Q29 Chair: The Government say: "No non-State actors can currently produce an improvised nuclear device"-that I think is true-"and none are likely to be able to make a sufficiently robust warhead for missile delivery in the foreseeable future", which I think may be true. Does Hezbollah have at least the missile delivery capability?

Avi Schnurr: It has the missile delivery capability. Al-Qaeda is believed to have ships and ship resources. There are only two things that stand right now between us-by "us" I mean the United Kingdom, the United States and other allies-and having this level of catastrophe. One is that although they have the ships and the missiles, terrorists groups and rogue nations do not today, necessarily, have access to nuclear weapons. That is a very thin boundary, because, for example, North Korea has nuclear weapons. Could North Korea sell its nuclear weapons? Could there be destabilisation in a state that has nuclear weapons? I could name a few. Those are things that could happen in the future. The other thin boundary is will. We are dependent on keeping any warhead of any size out of the hands of transnational terrorists or rogue nations and on their good will if they acquire them.

Q30 Bob Russell: Does the state of Israel have that capacity?

Avi Schnurr: The capacity to launch such a missile?

Q31 Bob Russell: You have referred to these other countries that may have or do have the capacity. Does the state of Israel have the same capacity?

Avi Schnurr: I have no unique information about Israel’s possession of nuclear warheads. In fact, I have no information. I would just depend on what is available in the public domain. In terms of missiles and boats, Israel has been reluctant to develop offensive missiles. Unlike some of the other countries, it has tended to depend on its air force. There is some talk these days, which you can see in the open press, about potentially moving more in the direction of developing such missiles, but historically Israel has not tended to develop them. I have no unique information.

Q32 John Glen: Is there not a gap in the theoretical scenario whereby all these things could come together: a rogue element within a state, which we are presumably tracking considerably all the time, acquiring a nuclear warhead and then being able to test and deliver it? To have all those things come together in one country is quite a long way away from the potential to happen. You have put together a very clear explanation of how all those things could come together, but, in practice, it would be difficult for all those things to align, given the level of scrutiny and given the technical complexity. This is not something that you can just knock together in the back yard, is it?

Avi Schnurr: I can point you to the congressional EMP commission again. The congressional EMP commission took testimony from all branches of the US Government and elsewhere. Its conclusion is that it would not be very challenging for either a transnational terrorist group or a rogue nation to have a ship, which could look like a freighter, with a missile on board, but they would need to acquire a warhead. Unfortunately, analysts out there believe that over a number of years, given proliferation, their acquiring a warhead is not something that we can write off as a possibility. People have said, "How does one launch a missile with any accuracy from a freighter or a boat?", but that overlooks the fact that with EMP, no accuracy is required.

Q33 Chair: Can I ask about the possibility of non-nuclear EMP weapons? They exist, do they not? How widespread are they?

Avi Schnurr: They do exist. The biggest issue with non-nuclear EMP weapons is that the complexity and threshold required to produce them is minimal, to say the most. At the summit meeting in Washington DC, for example, there were two Assistant Secretaries of Defence, a Deputy Under-Secretary and the Pentagon’s chief lawyer, all of whom expressed grave concerns over this risk-the non-nuclear EMP risk in particular, but the risk of EMP in general. The non-nuclear EMP risk is much shorter-range. However, that range, which could be 100 metres, a fraction of a kilometre or a kilometre-under certain circumstances, which I could discuss separately, it could be multiple kilometres-includes the risk of having a field strength that would be even greater, although limited in extent, than a nuclear EMP.

To summarise the capability, let me put it this way. We had a speaker at that summit who described, to the extent he was allowed to describe it, a device that he built from hardware he acquired from retail stores in the United States, which he had built into a van. As he put it, "I brought it on to an army base to test it, because it would not have been a good idea to test it in my garage where I built it." The result of the testing was quite disturbing. The capability simply amounts to, again, the will on the part of a terrorist group-

Q34 Chair: But at shorter range.

Avi Schnurr: Much shorter range. It also depends on the will of an electronics engineer. There are such devices that exist; they were used recently by North Korea against South Korea to suppress communications. South Korea is developing very advanced non-nuclear EMP weapons, and it has agreed to convey the technology to the United Arab Emirates. China is suspected now to be looking at such devices, and one could go on.

Q35 Ms Stuart: Mr Schnurr has told us about his views on the commission that was set up in the United States to assess the risk from electromagnetic pulse attack, and I wonder what Messrs Train, Kerridge and Horne think the benefits of a similar study in the United Kingdom would be.

Chris Train: From the grid perspective, we understand the electronic threat through naturally occurring space weather. We have no assessment as to what the overall threat is, but you have to remember that there is a trade-off of costs, mitigations and probability, so we would need an assessment of what level of threat we should be taking into account and whether, in the scheme of managing the threats to the infrastructure, that is actually a credible threat to attempt to mitigate.

Q36 Ms Stuart: I still bear the scars of being the duty Minister on the millennium change, when I spent years preparing for the disaster that never happened. Dr Kerridge.

Dr Kerridge: What we are doing and are capable of doing at the moment is describing the natural hazard. That means that we can run scenarios that are applicable to work that we can do with National Grid to look at the possible consequences of a range of events.

Another aspect of this is the ability to forecast events and to monitor the progress of natural events that take sufficient time from the sun to the Earth, and there is certainly a great deal of scope for improving our ability to forecast and to predict the impact of events. That is something that is currently being taken up through a US and UK collaboration, and there was a recent meeting in Boulder about it.

In operational terms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center is now co-operating with the UK Met Office on operational delivery, but behind that we have a great body of expertise in the UK that can be brought to bear to improve the skill of the predictive models and observations that are needed to make better forecasts. In the case of natural events, there are things that we can certainly do.

Professor Horne: I think there is another dimension here as well, which touches on both space weather and the effects of a nuclear detonation at high altitude, and that goes back to the 1960s when the USSR and the USA did their nuclear tests at high altitude. One thing that was found was that when they had an injection of high-energy electrons up into the earth’s magnetic field, those electrons were trapped and then circulated all the way around the earth, and they presented an additional radiation hazard to spacecraft. Now, that was back in the early 1960s, and it also caused the damage and loss of something like three satellites at that time. So I think there is another dimension here-assessing the risk to satellites from a high-altitude nuclear detonation. In the same way, there is a need to do more work to assess the risk to satellites from natural space weather events.

Q37 Mr Havard: Can I ask you about preparedness, particularly in relation to the United Kingdom and where we are in this, for such an electromagnetic event-intentional or otherwise? What do you have to say about our preparedness? There is a lot of discussion about hardening different parts of the infrastructure and hardening various different things. Where are we in terms of our current preparedness?

Chris Train: In terms of naturally occurring space weather, we have a set of operational mitigations in place, which start with the better forecasting of space weather and increased understanding about the likelihood and any timing of impacts. We have a number of operational measures that we can put in place, such as de-loading vulnerable transformers, spreading generation around the network and manning particular sites.

Hardening is in itself is actually quite a challenge. There is talk of putting capacitance in the earth in order to block the GICs, but this is unproven. There are some difficulties peculiar to the design of the transformers in the UK compared with the US, which actually means that this would need a very close look at before such measures were considered. On the capability actually to roll that out, it would take an incredibly long period of time to do that. Once you harden an asset, all you are doing is moving the problem to the next asset.

Q38 Mr Havard: We have had quite substantial evidence from the Government, which will be published-you have not had the opportunity to see it-and it addresses some of these things and the processes and structures to try and co-ordinate and address them. It talks about defence and says, "Defence procurement standards direct that military equipment must have an appropriate hardening against nuclear weapon effects." This level of protection against space weather is involved in that assessment. But that is not necessarily true of the civil infrastructure that we are talking about, is it? So what is the position as far as retrospective hardening is concerned? This is an expensive exercise, is it?

Chris Train: It is an unproven exercise in terms of the technology.

Q39 Mr Havard: Therefore is it worth doing?

Chris Train: This first thing is that it would need proper research to determine whether it would be effective. Intruding in the asset causes other problems as well, so you might be mitigating the potential for a very rare event and triggering a more frequent event. So it needs very careful consideration.

Q40 Mr Havard: Professor Horne, what do you reckon?

Professor Horne: I can really only speak on the space side of things and the satellites.

Q41 Mr Havard: The space weather effects?

Professor Horne: And the space weather effects.

Q42 Mr Havard: There are these 1, 2 and 3 categories-there is the initial thing that might come from a nuclear explosion, and then there is the second wave and the third wave. I cannot remember the exact terms at the minute. I am not a scientist. What do the standards that would be required terrestrially need to be to protect against natural causes, not necessarily category 1?

Chair: I think you have moved off the point about hardening.

Q43 Mr Havard: Well I want to know what the hardening is for and up to what standard you are going to harden things. How much money will you spend here in hardening infrastructure and against what?

Chair: Mr Schnurr?

Avi Schnurr: Perhaps I could add some elements to this. I very much agree with what Chris said. The current blockers, as they are often called, are an example of an approach that can be used for hardening, but testing is needed. We need to understand how well it works and we need to be sure that there are no undesirable other effects. I know that, for example, in the United States there are growing plans to do such testing. Some testing has already occurred on the part of developers. For example, ABB, I believe the largest transformer company in the world-certainly one of the largest transformer companies-has recently completed a prototype current blocker that it is proposing could be used to protect transformers. As a matter of fact today in Atlanta at a meeting of NERC, the capability of that prototype is being reviewed.

Q44 Chair: But what do you say about Mr Train’s point that by hardening something you just move the problem on to the next asset?

Avi Schnurr: That is exactly the point. There are two things that need to be looked at. First of all, one needs to be sure of the transformer itself, so that while one blocks the current, one will not have a negative effect on the transformer. Secondly, in the United States this particular point that you made, Chris, is taken very seriously. As officials at FERC, the Department of Energy and Congress look at protecting the US electric grid, they are looking at doing it in a co-ordinated, planned fashion, so that as you begin to put hardening in place, you put it in place without temporarily increasing the risk to some components while you protect others. So when hardening is done it has to be done with that in mind, based on modelling that tells you, "Okay, if I’m going to harden the grid, this is the way to do it so as not to put at risk component A, which might be more sensitive than component B, when I first protect component B."

Q45 Mr Havard: This is a discussion about hardening the electricity supply, if I can describe it that way. Does this have effects on other forms of electronics? What are the things that need to be done by the telecommunications industry, for example? It uses electricity to do transmission, and there are other forms of electronics. Where are things being done other than the main grid as far as hardening is concerned? What is being done? Do we have resilience there and what do we need to do for that?

Avi Schnurr: There are many different areas in society where critical, even life critical, infrastructures depend on electronics.

Q46 Mr Havard: Yes, does this knock them out? I want to know what we are doing in the UK about dealing with our own infrastructures, whether it is telecommunication companies or all the people who use communications of various sorts in terms of our own utilities and others.

Chris Train: I can only comment on the electricity transmission network and the gas transmission network. We have talked about the transformer issues in an EMP environment. Understanding the issues around the control systems would be quite critical.

Avi Schnurr: I could offer an example of some things that are going on in the United States. On the one hand, you have federal regulators and the Government level looking at this issue, but you also have some companies beginning to take independent action. For example, some companies, one in particular, have already made the decision that their next spare controller for their portion of the electric grid will be EMP and severe space weather-proof. Looking at that, I asked them, "What do you anticipate to be the cost impact on that particular installation?" They said, "Well, it looks like something in the neighbourhood of 5%."

Q47 Mr Havard: Are these technology advances introduced into the regular maintenance, repair and change programmes going to achieve what we want and provide us with the extra protection we require-the extra-hardened systems to protect us over time? Is that what we are doing?

Chair: It has not been said that we are doing anything.

Mr Havard: Maybe that is what we should be doing.

Chris Train: The first thing is to assess the threat, isn’t it?

Q48 Bob Russell: Following on from that line of questioning, are those working on the national grid sufficiently informed of the risks we have been discussing to be able to cope with an unexpected event?

Chris Train: In terms of space weather, we have a set of procedures. We actively monitor space weather, we are doing all the work in terms of understanding the risks and impacts I was talking about earlier, and we have a set of procedures in place, which are well known and tested in the control room environment, to ensure that we can respond appropriately should we get a warning of a space event.

Q49 Bob Russell: So you feel you are sufficiently informed?

Chris Train: Yes.

Q50 Bob Russell: Is there sufficient awareness of this issue within Government? This is your opportunity to let the Government know.

Professor Horne: I think there is a growing awareness. As David said earlier, when we formed the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group last year, we approached and talked to the Cabinet Office. It welcomed the formation of the group, and it was very much aware of space weather as a developing threat. We also had great support from the Government Office for Science at that time. The awareness has really grown over the last few years. The research councils are also developing a much greater awareness. On the research front, there is now discussion between the Natural Environment Research Council and the Science and Technology Facilities Council to try to put together funding for research into space weather.

Q51 Bob Russell: That is obviously encouraging. To what extent, if any, is the work done by industry, the Government, research institutions and so on co-ordinated? Or is it not co-ordinated?

Professor Horne: I think we would say there needs to be more co-ordination. We have made a really good start. Last year, we had our get-together for the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group, and that was one of the first times we were able to bring people from the MOD together with people from the Met Office, scientists, the research councils and private industry-in this case, the aviation industry.

Q52 Bob Russell: That is a good start. Are you saying there is room for improvement, or have you got a utopian situation already?

Professor Horne: I think that is something that needs to be built on, developed and guided. We need to develop more of a strategy in this country.

Q53 Bob Russell: Okay. That is the United Kingdom. How is this work being co-ordinated with that being done by other nations?

Avi Schnurr: Perhaps I could address that. I have two brief comments. I would measure awareness in the Government in terms of the actions that are taking place. There are two sides: severe space weather and EMP. In terms of severe space weather, I believe that things have begun to occur. Someone will need to make a decision on, for example, whether there should be a much more detailed level of analysis to go forward for the electric grid than what has already occurred, which strongly supports what has occurred. I think that is an excellent start, and maybe that is sufficient, but I feel that you may want to consider looking into a much more detailed level of analysis. That would be one measure of awareness.

A second example, moving on to EMP, would be: is there a process, a plan or workbooks that are being developed for different industries to look at what they would need to do to protect themselves against an EMP, either non-nuclear or nuclear? Certainly, in the United States, there is talk about that; that has not yet occurred. I do not know if that has happened here.

The assessment of cost impacts to do this kind of thing for EMP, for example, is again fairly modest, I think, based on the discussions we have had with some of the bulk power companies in the US. For example, we have asked them if they would be interested in cost recovery and if they would like Congress to provide for cost recovery. An example of their reactions is that these kinds of cost tend to fit within their existing logistics budgets.

Q54 Bob Russell: I suspect that one of the conclusions of this inquiry is that the Committee will be seeking to get a clear understanding of where the responsibility lies for protecting UK infrastructure from the hazards that we have been discussing. Are there any thoughts that you might like to put into that? For example, do you think that there should be one specific Minister to take a clear lead on these matters? I am intrigued to know what title he or she would have.

Dr Kerridge: If I may go back to an earlier point, you asked at what level in Government the awareness is. An announcement on space weather was made as part of the Cameron-Obama announcement following the recent visit, so it has reached and gained the attention at the highest level.

On the question that you are asking now, when we looked at the national risk assessment as a group, we broke down the national effects into 12 or 13 categories. The difficulty here is identifying a lead Department that would take responsibility for the overall risk. There probably not only one, because it goes across MOD, transport and, for the National Grid, DECC. That is a difficulty.

In terms of the SEIEG, where we have self-organised and said, "This is an important issue," in a sense we need a customer to tell us to do the work, because it is an important issue, rather than being self-generated. At the moment, we are working on the basis of, "We think it’s a good idea, and we ought to co-ordinate." Of course there will be difficulties to the extent to which, say, the private sector remains engaged in something that is not driven, in some way, by Government.

Chair: I hope that we can help you on that.

Avi Schnurr: If I may, I would just make the comment that sometimes it is helpful to step back. What we are talking about here are threats that are based on a large number of commissions, organisations-in the United States certainly-and some very impressive scientists. In terms of EMP, 55 years of work and many, many hundreds of billions of dollars spent all yielded the same conclusion: there is potential for an impact that would interfere with the continuity of modern society as we know it today.

When we are dealing with a threat and a risk of that magnitude, what level of assurance do we want to arrive at? We could sort of hope for the best, but I would recommend against that approach. If the approach is not to be, "Let’s hope for the best. It may destroy our society or damage it in a way that will take decades to recover, but we’ll be okay," we have a very serious problem. That problem, as I think you mentioned, is that this cuts across all branches of Government. It will therefore be quite challenging to find a way to come to grips with it, because there will be so many other challenges from every Department where this has any impact that it may tend to be pushed aside.

The challenge will be to find some way for the Government to build within themselves some strong advocacy to address this in a way that takes cognisance of the level of risk. Certainly, if I am facing a risk that many scientists believe could be devastating, I would want to reach a level of insurance or assurance that I am handling it properly that rises much, much higher than for other events, which might be less devastating. There are governmental management issues to be addressed.

Chris Train: My response to that question is that it does start with a national risk assessment. From an industry perspective, we have had a very good relationship and interaction and dialogue with the DECC officials as we have moved along this journey of developing the risk assessment around space weather and, alongside that, working with partners such as BGS on assessing what that risk means in terms of the infrastructure, and then through the E3C, the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee, collaborating with industry to understand what the wider effects are on it. For me, we have those mechanisms in place.

Q55 Chair: You have the assessments beginning to take place rather than the mechanisms in place?

Chris Train: The mechanisms for efficient dialogue. The full mitigations would follow on from those risk assessments.

Q56 Mr Havard: On the mechanism question, do you think that this should be part of the national security strategy discussion as much as anything else, and perhaps part of the considerations at the National Security Council? It should be in that stream as much as it is in civil discussions?

Chris Train: What I am saying is that from the energy industry perspective, our dialogue through DECC is an efficient dialogue.

Dr Kerridge: We are talking about the UK. I will just emphasise that within the UK there is an immense resource and experience in these questions in Government Departments, Government-funded agencies, the university sector and the private sector. There is an opportunity to provide leadership beyond the UK. Working together with the US on this matter is one strand; another important strand is in Europe, through the European Space Situational Awareness programme. It is quite important that we should be involved-which we are not currently-in the inner space weather component of it, because it will bring a great deal to bear on the wider problem.

Q57 Chair: I am afraid that we are going to have to bring this to a close. I am sorry, Professor Horne, but we have some more witnesses from the Government to tell us what they are doing. Thank you all very much indeed for your evidence this morning. I am sorry it has been so brief, but it may be the first of more inquiries. You never know.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence, Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Sir John Beddington CMG, FRS, Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government, David Ferbrache, Head of Cyber, Ministry of Defence, and John Tesh, Deputy Director, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.

Q58 Chair: Welcome to this evidence session on developing threats to electronic infrastructure. I am sorry that this is all so truncated, but we are grateful to you all for coming. I must say to both Ministers that we will not be able to call you Minister because we will get confused, so we will call you Mr Harvey and Mr Hendry. Will you all introduce yourselves?

Nick Harvey: I am Nick Harvey, Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

Charles Hendry: I am Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy.

Sir John Beddington: I am Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

John Tesh: I am John Tesh, Deputy Director, Civil Contingencies Secretariat, Cabinet Office; National Risk Assessment.

David Ferbrache: I am David Ferbrache, Ministry of Defence lead on Cyber and Space Policy matters.

Q59 Chair: Thank you all for coming. As you can see, there are as many witnesses as there are members of the Committee. Inevitably, we clash with other activity in Parliament, which means that we will need to be brief. You don’t have to answer every question. In fact, I would rather you didn’t. I thank you, Sir John, in particular for changing your arrangements today to be able to make it to this evidence session.

I shall start with the recognition of whatever threat there is, and with the higher altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon event. What estimation has been made of the potential impact on the UK infrastructure of such an event? We are talking about nuclear weapons, so it might seem appropriate to go to-well, whichever of you would you like to begin. Mr Harvey, would you like to begin?

Nick Harvey: Yes, by all means. We have addressed this somewhat in our written evidence to you. Clearly, we recognise the threat both of a nuclear attack and high-altitude electromagnetic effects. We take these very seriously, and in threat terms, we view them in more or less equivalent terms. It is certainly viewed as a top-level threat, and recognised as such in the security strategy. I do not know whether David Ferbrache would like to add anything.

David Ferbrache: I am happy to. One of the keys for us is to actually put the threat in context. We probably need to separate the elements a little as well. The event that is likely to have the greatest impact is an extra-atmospherical high-altitude nuclear burst generating EMP. To achieve that, certain things have to happen. Obviously, you need to have a country with nuclear weapons capability, able to "ruggedise" that nuclear weapon for delivery by the ballistic missile system, and to have a ballistic missile-

Q60 Chair: Ballistic missile?

David Ferbrache: A ballistic missile, which is capable of putting that into high-altitude detonation at over 30 km above the earth’s service, and even then, it has relatively localised hundreds of kilometres’ effect. To have an effect over a large area like the continental United States or all of Europe, you need to get it to 400 km in altitude. At the moment, we assess that very few states-that is, well-established nuclear weapons powers-have that capability. If we took a country such as Iran, they would have to have ballistic missiles with the appropriate range. They do not currently. They would have to have an incredible nuclear weapon capability and they would have the ability to marry those two together and detonate them at altitude.

Q61 Chair: You said 400 km.

David Ferbrache: Up to 400 km.

Q62 Chair: Whereas in your written evidence you say that that could only be achieved by launching a device by missile to an altitude of several tens of kilometres.

David Ferbrache: As your altitude increases, the area of the earth you can impact using that electromagnetic pulse also increases, so at lower altitude you may only be talking of hundreds of kilometres of effect. As you get up to 400 km, you are talking potentially thousands of kilometres.

Q63 Chair: So a bad effect could be achieved by, say, 30 km.

David Ferbrache: Yes. The second category of your threat is when you start looking at terrorist use or, alternatively, the ability to explode a nuclear weapon at ground level. That is a very different scale of effect. You are talking short-range EMP and in most cases the blast and thermal radiation fallout is actually a greater concern.

Q64 Chair: Could such a weapon be launched from a ship?

David Ferbrache: It could be, but, again, it detonates at low altitude; hence the effect is actually quite localised compared to the worst-case scenarios of the high-altitude nuclear weapon exploding.

Q65 Chair: Why would it detonate at low altitude?

David Ferbrache: Because, again, unless you had a ballistic missile that was capable of reaching those sorts of altitudes-

Q66 Chair: So 30 km.

David Ferbrache: Exactly.

Q67 Chair: Could, say, Iran, launch a ballistic missile from a ship up to 30 km?

David Ferbrache: No, not currently.

Q68 Chair: When you say this could only be achieved by launching a device by missile to an altitude of several tens of kilometres, a limited number of states possess that capability. Is Iran one of those states?

David Ferbrache: Our assessment at the moment is that Iran does not possess the capability to detonate a nuclear weapon at altitude.

Q69 Chair: No, that was not what I asked. Could Iran launch a device by missile to an altitude of several tens of kilometres?

David Ferbrache: We do not believe so. We keep that threat under assessment, so our defence intelligence works with allies to monitor Iran’s programme in terms of both nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities.

Q70 Chair: Could North Korea?

David Ferbrache: We do not believe that is the case.

Q71 Chair: Mr Harvey, would you like to add anything to this?

Nick Harvey: No. I think that covers our reading of the threat.

Q72 Chair: Is there a possibility of a non-nuclear EMP attack? Is it considered a genuine threat?

Nick Harvey: It is certainly considered a potential threat. It is not considered a particularly likely one, certainly in the foreseeable future; but we keep that constantly under review. It is a material risk that we need to consider, but we do not think there is any imminent likelihood or threat from it. Again, Mr Ferbrache may want to add to that.

Q73 Chair: Mr Ferbrache, how long do you think, before Iran has the capability that you say it does not have at the moment, to launch a weapon to the relevant height?

David Ferbrache: I am cautious about speculating, as you might expect, Mr Chairman, because there are a number of different elements to that intelligence assessment. We keep it under track, and over the next decade, we can see some steps it might have the capability to develop, both in terms of ballistic missile programme development and the imponderable for us, which is how close is Iran to the development of a nuclear weapon at this stage. When the Foreign Secretary made his statement to the House on 29 June, he referred to his concerns about the development of Iranian ballistic missile capabilities, which might arrive at a point where they could deliver such a nuclear weapon.

Q74Chair: One other thing you said in your written evidence, which I want to pick up, is that no non-state actors can currently produce an improvised nuclear device and none are likely to be able to make a sufficiently robust warhead for missile delivery in the foreseeable future, but states have been known to provide non-state actors with weapons, have they not?

Nick Harvey: At the moment, the MOD is not aware of any state or non-state actor intent to attack us in that way, but there is certainly evidence of growing awareness of non-nuclear EMP-

Q75 Chair: Sorry; I’ve changed the subject. States have been known to provide non-states with weapons, yes?

Nick Harvey: Yes.

Q76 Chair: So if a state developed a nuclear weapon, it could provide it to a non-state.

Nick Harvey: It could.

Q77 Mr Havard: Mr Harvey, you were going to say something about whether non-nuclear technology is in the hands of non-state actors.

Nick Harvey: We do not believe at the moment that there is anyone with both the intent and the capability to do this, but we are aware that there is a growing interest in it and a growing awareness of it. As with the risk of cyber-attack by terrorists, we keep a watching brief for any intelligence that indicates a terrorist intent to adopt new methods of attack; but, frankly, our main concern remains terrorist use of conventional explosives or their possible acquisition of CBRN weapons. Those things are a more immediate concern.

Q78 Chair: Why?

Nick Harvey: Because it would be more straightforward for them to wreak havoc with either of those than it would be for them to get into these other realms.

Q79 Chair: You estimate that the likelihood of a space weather event in the next five years is moderate to high. Do I gather that you feel it would have the same effect or much the same sort of effect as a high-level nuclear event? Sir John Beddington, do you want to answer that?

Sir John Beddington: Yes. First, may I go back to that frequency estimate? These estimates are pretty uncertain. What that estimate is saying is that it’s not likely to be once in 10 years or once in 1,000 years; it’s somewhere between those. It is quite an uncertain estimate, because all we have to go on essentially is historical information on the frequency of these events. Some of the information comes from, as it were, secondary sources, such as ice cores and so on. So the inference is not brilliant. We have had pretty good records since the middle of the 19th century and we know roughly the frequency. That gives you an idea of the answer.

In terms of severity-perhaps Mr Tesh will expand on this-the way we have been trying to look at this risk has been to ask what a reasonable worst case is. We feel that a reasonable worst case in this context is probably something similar to the so-called Carrington event, which occurred at the tail end of the 19th century. We are using that event in terms of our assessment of a reasonable worst case. That involved a combination of things. We generally feel it’s a relatively low probability, but not to be discounted. The effects are similar, but are likely to be significantly lower in scale than a nuclear device exploded at altitude, as David has indicated.

I’ll describe the sort of analysis that we’ve been doing. I believe you had some of the National Grid people in front of the Committee. We asked them to look at the issue from the point of view of our having this reasonable worst case of a space weather event, and they are indicating-I guess this is well known to you now-that in the UK, something of the order of eight or nine transformers might be affected.

In terms of the satellite industry, part of it will depend on whether you get reasonable early warning of the event, so that you can make some adjustment, and indeed that is the same for the National Grid, but perhaps, John, you want to expand on the way you actually assess that reasonable worst case.

John Tesh: The reason we chose the Carrington event was that it seems to be representative of the most extreme manifestation, according to the records that exist, of all three aspects of the solar weather risk, which is partly the electromagnetic side, partly solar radiation storms and partly solar flares. They all affect different parts of different types of infrastructure in different ways, so we set up a group of scientists-I think you’ve been talking to some of them; the leader of them is Mike Hapgood from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory-to work with industry to try to work out what the impacts would be of each of those different effects of solar weather, and to start by confirming that it’s reasonable to work off the Carrington event as the reasonable worst-case manifestation of it.

Sir John Beddington: I might add that there is a rather awkward acronym SEIEG, which stands for the Space Environment Impacts Expert Group, led by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, with the British Geological Survey, British Antarctic Survey, QinetiQ, SolarMetrics and the Met Office as members. That group is working closely within the Cabinet Office’s orbit. In my role as Chief Scientific Adviser, I have met the group and provided a critical-friend challenge to some of these things. It is fair to say that there is a fair bit of work in progress.

I will also allude to some of the co-operation with the USA. I visited a meeting on this issue at the White House earlier this year. We met most of the key agencies in the USA, and the European Space Agency was also present. Following that, we agreed there was a need to enhance the co-operation on space-weather effects between ourselves and the USA. I discussed it with John Holdren, who, as chief scientific adviser to President Obama, has a similar role to mine in the US Government. We wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times on the issue in general terms, saying that it was something to be taken seriously on both sides of the Atlantic, which I firmly believe.

Following President Obama’s visit, there was a joint statement from the Prime Minister and the President indicating that we were going to enhance the collaboration on space weather in all aspects: monitoring, prediction, assessment of mitigating measures and so on. That is active at present. In particular, one of the things that has been taken forward is an agreement between the Met Office and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to co-operate on providing 24/7 cover for prediction and warning of space events. That is active. The aim is to enhance that; that is very much the view of the Prime Minister and the President that it should be done. That is active engagement, primarily at official level at the moment, but also for our organisations. I am sorry, Chairman, I answered too fully for that, but I think that may have covered some of the issues.

Q80 Chair: No, not at all. I am looking at an article in The Guardian, headed "Solar storms could create $2 trillion ‘global Katrina’, warns chief scientist". So, it is clear that you do take this extremely seriously.

Sir John Beddington: Yes, though I do not think the 2 trillion comes from anything I have said. I take it seriously; it is an issue that we should have out there in our minds. It should be part of our national risk assessment that is actively in progress. We need to think in the risk assessment what is a reasonable worst case. I am confident-and American colleagues have the same view-that a Carrington event is something like a reasonable worst case. It is likely that we might get something significantly less than a Carrington event that nevertheless can do damage. The last serious events we have had in space have been at times when, it is arguable, our vulnerability was less; there was less reliance on electronic control of many of our life support systems. Our vulnerability is increasing through massively increased use of satellites for communications and so on. In terms of basic time clocks, we are very reliant on satellite information.

Q81 Chair: It is more than arguable that our vulnerability was less. Our vulnerability is much, much greater, isn’t it?

Sir John Beddington: Absolutely, yes. I may have misstated.

Q82 Chair: You used the word arguable; that was what I was questioning.

Sir John Beddington: I won’t take issue with that.

Charles Hendry: With the National Grid, we have also identified what we would consider a worst-case scenario. That again has been based on the Carrington event. That is about ten times worse than the event we saw in the UK in 1989. In 1989, two transformers were knocked out, and that did not have any impact on the grid, which was able to continue to function properly. In terms of the work taken forward, we are looking at a much more significant event than that. The National Grid presented a paper to E3C, which is the Energy Emergencies Executive Committee, in July. Based on that paper, more work is being done now to look at the issues relating to generator transformers, and that work will be concluded in the early months of next year. We have also jointly written, with the National Grid, to all the major players in this sector, saying that we require them to co-operate actively in this work, because of the impact which it could have. That is a significant stepping up of the level of activity in order to understand what the full implications could be and what will be done, if necessary, to mitigate that.

Q83 Mrs Moon: This is an issue that cuts across Departments, as we can see by your presence here today. In the event of a severe electromagnetic event, whether it was natural or international and intentional, which Department would take the lead?

John Tesh: It would depend on what the origin of the event was. If we are talking about a nuclear EMP event, then we are talking about war and the Prime Minister would be in charge of a meeting of his national security Ministers straight away; that is very straightforward. If we are talking about a terrorist event, then the Home Secretary is the Government Minister for terrorist events by default-in other words, the assumption is that she will be in charge for the moment, until something else happens that alerts you that there is some other aspect of the crisis that means that someone else needs to take the lead.

If we are talking about a solar weather event, it would rather depend on the level of the crisis. If we are talking about something which had an effect largely on one sector or Government Department, then that Government Department would take the lead. So if this was something that affected the national grid, then the lead Government Department for that would be the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Probably, if it was limited to that sector, they would run the crisis from DECC itself, and we would send officials from the Cabinet Office to assist in the linkages to other Government Departments that might be necessary.

If we are talking about what we would call a level 2 crisis, which is one where the impacts are widely spread, then the action moves into the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms-COBRA-and one of the functions of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat would be to advise the Prime Minister on who he should appoint as the lead Government Minister for that crisis. Ordinarily, we would have pre-identified Government Ministers, depending on the nature of the crisis, and the main criterion is where the largest impact falls. So if this was something which largely hit the electricity generating industry and sector, then DECC would probably be the person in the frame. If it was something that affected communications rather more, then another Government Minister would be identified. If it is entirely unclear who should be in the lead, then there is a system for appointing a Minister without departmental responsibility, simply to come in and deal with that particular crisis.

The system is well rehearsed, and usually functions on the basis of pre-identified lead Government Ministers. In the case of space weather, we have yet to get to that point, because we have been doing a lot of work with SEIEG-the group that Sir John Beddington was talking about-to identify exactly what the impacts of a severe space weather event would be. When we have done that work, we will be looking to identify lead Government Ministers either overall or, as is perhaps more likely in this case, for particular aspects of the crisis. Then we will have the whole thing pre-identified. As it is, we will be working off the evidence that we have received so far to identify any Government Minister. I hope that is not too long-winded.

Q84 Mrs Moon: It sounds slightly chaotic, I have to say.

Sir John Beddington: In terms of providing scientific advice in emergencies, the ball tends to land in my court. In the event that we move to some sort of Cabinet Office Briefing Room response, because it is of that degree of severity, I would put together a scientific advisory group in emergencies, the acronym for which is SAGE. This would involve the appropriate people from within Government, the list of Rutherford Appleton, the Met Office and so on that I referred to, and some of the chief scientific advisers-those from the MoD, DECC and arguably Transport. It would also have some independent scientists from industry and academia, who would be involved. SAGE would then convene and questions would be posed by whoever is chairing COBRA at the time, and we would gather in emergency sessions. I would bring the scientific advice, either on mitigation or, if we had an alarm that a problem was coming, advice on how we would deal with it. That mechanism is in place and it is truly cross-Government. The habit of SAGE is that, after an appropriate time delay, all the advice that it has received and all the advice that it has actually presented is made public.

Q85 Mrs Moon: Are you telling us that you take overall responsibility for the co-ordination of, and the various responsibilities associated with, an electromagnetic event, or is that someone else? I still do not get a picture of who is actually leading this.

Sir John Beddington: Taking overall responsibility is a little bit above my pay grade, but co-ordinating the appropriate science and engineering advice for Government is my responsibility.

Q86 Mrs Moon: Above your pay grade, who is it then?

Q87 Chair: As a matter of interest, if all the telephones are down how would you co-ordinate things?

John Tesh: We have rehearsed that scenario and we have alternative means of communicating in a crisis, which rely on military satellite communication and not on-

Q88 Chair: So the satellites are not down? Is that right?

John Tesh: As I am sure Mr Harvey is going to tell you, those satellites are hardened, so they are reasonably robust. That is why we have relied on them for crisis communication in the event that all other forms of communication are down.

To answer your original question about the chaotic nature of the process, Mrs Moon, it is not that chaotic. It is spelled out in a document that I can easily make available; it is on the website. It is about the concept of operation for central Government in a crisis, and the roles and responsibilities are very clearly laid down, including the duty and responsibility right up-front in a crisis-it is almost the first responsibility-to provide advice to No.10 and the Prime Minister on who he should appoint as the lead Government Minister.

To put it simply, we can prepare as much as we like for most kinds of contingencies and we do prepare-we have a long list of lead responsibilities-but there are some types of contingencies that impact in a rather unpredictable way. Space weather is a classic case, and we would have to match the recommendation to the way that it looked the impacts were going to fall. The process is well rehearsed and I would argue that it works quite well.

Charles Hendry: In my experience, this is one of the most examples of seamless Government working, rather than there being any sense of chaos in it. Where there is a clear lead in terms of which Government Department is suffering the most impact, that is the Department that would lead this process. Where there is not clarity, then the process is co-ordinated, as has been discussed, through the Cabinet Office, although potentially with a lead Minister.

Let me give you an example, although it is on a very different scale from the issues that we are looking at today. Last winter in the very bad weather, the immediate impact was evidently in the transport system-airports being brought to a halt, the rail infrastructure and the motorways too-so it was the Transport Secretary who took the lead, as Transport was the lead Department in that process. As that issue started to be mitigated, there was a risk that it could become an energy issue-that people would not get their heating oil and that grid connections might be down. Had that scenario materialised-in fact, it did not-the lead would have transferred across to DECC. Where there is clear departmental responsibility and lead in terms of the overall impact, that is the Department that would lead that work.

Q89 Mrs Moon: The Science and Technology Committee recommended that there should be a lead Government Department in relation to space weather. Has a lead Department been identified; and if it has been identified, would it be the same Department that would lead if there was a HEMP attack?

Charles Hendry: The work is still going on, I understand. Mr Tesh will elaborate, but it is dealt with in terms of identifying where the impact would be felt most acutely. In the event that it cannot be established which sector is affected most acutely, the formula of having a lead Minister who is supported by the Cabinet Office would be the model adopted.

John Tesh: We said that we would make that decision when the results of all the work that has been done on the impacts of extreme space events is much more clearly known, clearly because it is the Department where the impact is felt most heavily that is most likely to be the lead Government Department for dealing with the situation. We have not yet got to that point, but we would hope to be able to do so in the next two or three months.

Q90 Mrs Moon: How ready are we for an event tomorrow, be it a geomagnetic storm or a HEMP attack? Would we be able to cope? Are we prepared? Are we that far down the line?

John Tesh: As far as solar weather is concerned, we are a lot better prepared than we were about two years ago. An enormous amount of work has been done since 2008, when this was first identified as a potential risk, first, to identify exactly what type it was in terms of probability and predictability, and secondly, to see how the impacts would be felt in different areas. I think you heard earlier this morning about the work that National Grid has been doing to prepare. Similar work is being done, or will be done over the coming months, in other sectors where there is an effect, but first of all they need to understand how the effects of space weather would differ from the sorts of disruptions that they already have planning for and whether they therefore need to put additional measures in place, or can rely on existing resilience of the sector.

In the last few months, we have spent time briefing the Space Leadership Council and talking to people who represent telecommunications and so forth. We have been promoting the concept of a sector resilience plan, which is a plan for each sector that looks at all the risks-not just a particular one-that affect the operation of that sector. We have been inviting those people to review their contingency plans and resilience arrangements and upgrade them as they see the need. The answer is: we are better off than we were, and we will, I hope, be better off still in the next few months as work on the impacts comes to maturity.

A high level EMP event, I think-I probably have to defer to other witnesses on this-is a truly catastrophic event, not just because of the EMP, but rather more because of the burst effects. You are talking about a different kettle of fish.

David Ferbrache: It is fair to say our approach to that is rather different. We are very much focused on trying to ensure that that event does not occur in the first place, which is all about counter-proliferation action to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons or ballistic missile capabilities. Deterrent capability is one of the areas that we make absolutely certain is protected against EMP, in terms of our ability then to retaliate against such an aggressive act. Then we go into hardening of key strategic communication systems, too. It is a threat we are keeping a weather eye on, to use that phrase, because the concern downstream is that we may well see a proliferation of both nuclear weapons capabilities and appropriate launch systems.

Sir John Beddington: I can add briefly that, given the organisations that are already in place and working on it, we would have some degree of prediction, depending on the type of solar event-something of the order of an hour or two, or almost a day. It is not that it would just happen; there would be some early warning, because there are mechanisms for providing one. In terms of providing the scientific advice on how we would react, I have a sort of "Yellow Pages" of people who would be contacted and brought in. Almost certainly, depending on the situation, we would directly use the phone system, or military back-up, and we would be able to pull that team together pretty quickly.

Charles Hendry: May I expand on that? There is daily monitoring of the space environment. That is primarily done through two satellite systems, one called SOHO, which gives a 24-hour indication of what is happening, and one called ACE, which is much more accurate in terms of the intensity, but is perhaps a half hour ahead. There is clearly a pattern to this: the next solar maximum is expected in 2013; the current expectation is that it will not be particularly strong, but we are aware that the period pre-Carrington in 1859 was not one of very strong solar activity, so one cannot take that as a prediction of what is going to happen subsequently.

The National Grid has in place what is called an all-in system, so in the event that any issue emerges, it has an ability to bring on the entire network immediately, or within a very short period of time, to respond and to ensure that the risk of a problem being transported from region to region in the country can be minimised.

Q91 Mrs Moon: Will any advice or guidance be issued to business and to families on what they can do to protect themselves in such an event? Is there anything they can do, or will it be a case of only a Government-level response?

John Tesh: The answer is that there is, but it does not yet reflect our current understanding of the possible impacts of solar weather on businesses on the ground, as it were. We have something called the national risk register, which we published for the first time in 2008, with an updated version in 2010. We intend to update it further in the next three months, by the end of January next year; at that time, we expect it will reflect new risks that have emerged, on which we did not have material to include in the last one. That will include the effects of solar weather.

The purpose of the risk register is to provide an indication to people of the kinds of things that can disrupt their lives. In the first instance, it has been designed to be readable by people who are running small and medium-sized businesses as much as by people who run the big corporate enterprises and the national infrastructure. It is also designed to provide part of the background to the Government’s initiatives on community resilience, so it should include common-sense advice on the kinds of things that you need to keep in your cupboard in order to deal with the impact of the sorts of things that happen all the time and which you cannot do very much to prevent.

The answer to your question is yes. I would love to say that we have a lot of people in the country reading this all the time. That is an obstacle that we still have to overcome. I think we have to market it more effectively than we are at the moment.

Q92 Mrs Moon: From which Department is this resilience strategy coming?

John Tesh: The resilience strategy comes out of the Cabinet Office-my Department.

Q93 Mr Havard: On the question of strategy as opposed to response-you have described the architecture for response very adequately -there is a national risk assessment, and the register thing you have just spoken about, at that level, and there is also the national security strategy, the NSC, and so on. What is the interrelationship between them in deciding a strategic view, which suggests a longer-term outlook-not doing it in a panic when the response is required, but doing it before? How do those two things get together? How does this get fed into and monitored through the security strategy and the work of the NSC?

John Tesh: The national resilience strategy is subordinate to the national security strategy. The national security strategy takes all our security interests from the point of view of prevention and the pursuit of our national security interests, security in the sense of hardening and protection, and also response. In the resilience strategy, we define resilience as being the ability to anticipate emergencies before they arise, being prepared for them, being able to respond effectively to them and being able to recover effectively from them. We have, as part of the national security strategy, a resilience strategy that sets out our approach to that. It was basically incorporated in the same document as the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review. If you look in there, beyond the material about defence and so forth, there is material about our ability to improve the resilience of the country to common types of emergency.

Q94 Sandra Osborne: What consideration has been given to making it a legal requirement for civilian electricity companies to protect their equipment in the event of electromagnetic disturbance and damage?

Charles Hendry: It is wrong to suggest that activity is not really happening in this area. Clearly a tremendous amount of the impact here would be on the national grid infrastructure. Since 1999, all the transformers purchased by the National Grid have been ones that can stand the high electricity currents that might be caused by such activities. The grid is constantly being upgraded. Part of the process is to try to localise any impact that happens. We are perhaps less at risk than the United States because we have shorter distances of cabling without interruption, so this can be contained more readily here. The purpose of the letter that one of our directors in the Department wrote to the energy companies and others at the beginning of October-it was a joint letter with National Grid-was to increase greatly their active engagement in this work, to make sure they understand the urgency we attach to it and to say that we need their active engagement in ensuring that the strategy being prepared for early next year reflects their needs.

Q95 Sandra Osborne: You do not feel that there has to be a legal requirement?

Charles Hendry: The issue links more to National Grid than to the individual companies. This work will be spread through the grid infrastructure. The important element is that National Grid understands what needs to be done, and I am very satisfied that that is the case. The EEEC committee is chaired by Chris Train of National Grid, and the focus throughout is on how one stops an incident spreading and on how one contains it. As the grid is upgraded-we are going through a £30 billion process of upgrading the national grid-that will be done in a way that builds in resistance and resilience.

Q96 Sandra Osborne: We took evidence previously from National Grid. In attempting to mitigate the risks associated with electromagnetic activity, to what extent is knowledge shared between Departments and key businesses? For example, where the MOD becomes aware of a particular vulnerability that could be exploited-perhaps in developing its own networks or capabilities-is that knowledge passed on to protect military and civilian infrastructure?

Nick Harvey: Certainly, the military monitor these things through our own sources and those, principally, of the Americans. We use that information for our own reasons. Yes, we do share it with the rest of Government. It is also the case that a lot of industries will have some direct information coming to them on this. I do not know whether John or David want to add to that.

David Ferbrache: In the case of electromagnetic pulse, we have had a reasonably good understanding of the effects of EMP for some time, and that has been reflected in the complete suite of defence standards, which are taken up by respective industries as well. Those are publicly available, and they give indications of the threat wave forms and potential protective measures.

Charles Hendry: On the civil side, this is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve. The letter sent in October includes the sentence, "We see the need for a collaborative approach, which will require the sharing of data, especially transformer design, construction and configuration information." We are expecting businesses in the sector to be sharing good practice and good design.

Q97 Chair: Could we have a copy of that letter?

Charles Hendry: Yes, certainly.

Q98 Sandra Osborne: Do you think the UK would benefit from a study similar to that carried out in the US by the Commission to Assess a Threat to the United States from an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack?

Sir John Beddington: The answer is that the more we co-operate, and the more information and sensible discussion and critical debate you have in the scientific community, the better. There is a lot of work currently going on, as John Tesh has explained. For example, there is a great deal of work going on between NOAA and the Met Office in trying to improve predictability by using satellite information of an event that may reach us from space weather. In terms of defence, that is more in the purview of Sir Mark Welland and the MOD.

On the civilian side and the space weather issues, there is a great deal of work already ongoing with the US. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation has been particularly useful. The things it has been suggesting are terribly similar to the operation and mitigation procedures that National Grid already has in place. So I can give you some degree of reassurance on that.

In terms of the electric infrastructure security partnership, there was a meeting in Westminster Hall in September last year, I think, to look at the framework. The UK has had discussions with members of the EIS Council. You had Mr Avi Schnurr in front of you just before us. I have met him, and we speak regularly. My officials attend-I know appropriate scientific personnel do this too-events as they occur. It is interesting that, beyond being instructed by both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron to enhance this co-operation, which is a work in progress and I will be going to the USA in February to explore that, I will be seeing John Holdren. We have a meeting in Cape Town on Friday. One of the discussions bilaterally will be on how we can enhance the instruction that we have got from the President and the Prime Minister. We are active in it. The aim is to understand it much better and understand the impacts much better. As John Tesh indicated, that is very much a work in progress, which has to involve industry.

We are looking very carefully at ways in which we can improve the predictability. As Mr Hendry indicated, there is an issue to do with how we are using satellites to predict weather events. For some, you have eight minutes warning, depending on the event, but for others you can have up to two or three days. That needs to be bottomed out. The Met Office is working closely with NOAA on this and the scientists are meeting. The group that we have, with British Government input, as well as inputs from the appropriate universities, is working pretty well on this.

Q99 Chair: You have twice mentioned NOAA, so can you remind us what it stands for?

Sir John Beddington: Yes. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Q100 Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Harvey, in view of what Sir John has just said about the responsibilities of Mark Welland in this area, why did the Ministry of Defence refuse to send somebody who could give evidence, on the basis that he had no responsibility in this area?

Nick Harvey: Candidly, I was not aware that we had done. There would be no objection in principle to his appearing before you.

Chair: We asked.

Nick Harvey: I can only apologise. I was not aware of that. From my point of view, I certainly have no objection to his appearing.

Chair: This is one of the problems that we have had with this inquiry: trying to work out who on earth will accept some responsibility for what appears to be a relatively large threat.

Q101 Mr Havard: Perhaps I can come on to that, because one of my questions will be about responsibilities and who is responsible for co-ordination and so on. Clearly the threats are real, whether they are natural or otherwise induced, and there is an effect and everyone knows that we have to put in place protections. That is a given. We are told that, of the sorts of effects there may be to power networks, satellite services, aviation, digital control systems, wireless and mobile communications, satellite communications, positioning, navigation and timing, and Earth observation, the last three in particular are the Ministry of Defence’s responsibility. We are trying to delineate what responsibility should properly lie where in all this. What is said to us is that those last three things are already hardened against the problems. Some of the others are not, and we are describing how that might be done.

The Ministry of Defence may be confident that the satellite services and the positioning, navigation and Earth observation may well be protected, but what about all of the other things that the Ministry of Defence uses that fall into the less protected areas? What is the Ministry doing about extending that protection beyond the space environment to the things that it uses in the terrestrial environment?

Nick Harvey: Generally, defence equipment is more resilient and hardened than its civilian counterparts. The responsibility for ensuring appropriate resilience for individual military equipment and systems lies with the Defence Equipment and Support organisation. As a solution is developed for a new capability, whatever that might be, including planned future upgrades, the requirements are managed to ensure that the solution will meet the need of whatever the military application is. It would be unrealistic, bluntly, to seek to harden all military assets against a threat of space weather and EMP, but as the overall likelihood of a severe damaging event is relatively low in our view, we focus our attention on what we consider to be a critical subset of systems.

David Ferbrache: We tend not to look at space systems in isolation. So, the way we tend to approach it is actually to talk about the overall system. For us, that would include, for instance, the nuclear firing chain and our strategic command and control, and that includes therefore the hardening of the terrestrial infrastructure that goes with it-not just the space segment.

With the nuclear EMP threat, we are currently putting that in a context that says, "We judge that to be a low-probability threat," for all the reasons I have set out in terms of nuclear weapons, capability being acquired, linked to ballistic missiles and detonated at high altitude. We therefore have taken the decision to trade out some elements of that protection, based on our assessment of the threat, and that is something we keep under review.

So my point is that this threat may evolve over the next decade-we fully expect it may do-and that will lead us to change the risk balance decisions we make. We also put quite a bit of time and effort into reversion modes and fall-back. GPS is the classic. It’s a military system anyway-US military satellites. It has a degree of resilience against a lot of the space weather scenarios we have talked about. But we also routinely practise reversion modes. So, yes, we do still train people in maps and compasses-good old-fashioned navigation. We also train them in how to use inertial navigation systems, and we routinely practise GPS jamming. As Mr Harvey has set out, we tend to include electronic warfare routinely in our exercises and training. We play through a lot of degradation modes and reversion modes. I am not sanguine; the threat will evolve over time, and it is something we need to keep a careful watch on-

Q102 Chair: The title of this inquiry is "Developing threats to electronic infrastructure," and that is therefore what you say this is.

David Ferbrache: It is, yes.

Chair: We will write you a letter, Mr Harvey, asking for further details about the nuclear firing chain that Mr Ferbrache just mentioned.

Q103 Mr Havard: The Chief Scientific Adviser MOD is the person who would clearly advise the Ministry of Defence on what should be happening with the development of new equipment and other things, and replacement programmes and extra hardening and so on. So do they have responsibility for the co-ordination of seeing that those activities take place in all these other areas of the MOD? If not them, who in the Ministry of Defence has that responsibility to ensure that these considerations are fed into the various aspects of the Ministry’s broader defence policy as well as its equipment acquisition? Who is that person? Is it you, Mr Harvey? Who has the responsibility to process within the MOD to ensure that that happens both day to day and in terms of policy?

Nick Harvey: It would be the capability owners acting on the advice of the Chief Scientific Adviser and then working, as I said, in co-operation with the Defence Equipment and Support organisation. Certainly Ministers would oversee this, but in terms of resilience of equipment it would be through the capability function, and providing that would be the responsibility of Defence Equipment and Support, but acting in both cases, very much, on the advice of the Chief Scientific Adviser.

Q104 Mr Havard: The Ministry of Defence is doing its thing, and we also have, as you have referenced, work with allies. Who is responsible for ensuring that those considerations work, what we can offer in that debate and what we can gain from others’ experience? Who co-ordinates the relationship with allies on this issue?

Nick Harvey: I think it goes on at many different levels. The scientists liaise with their scientific counterparts, and operations people very much with their operational counterparts. At the most basic level, we have our own arrangements to monitor space and developments, and we share that information with American counterparts. We also have some procedures in place to share that with our European counterparts. It will all be done at the appropriate level.

Q105 Mr Havard: Can I ask you about military support for the civil environment, utilities and others? Clearly, at some point there is a crossover in relation to those two things. Also, in terms of the development, there is presumably an R and T strategy, or some sort of science strategy, coming through in terms of the Ministry of Defence. Where is the prioritisation of development activities and science research technology that is appropriate to the Ministry of Defence? How does it relate to those things that are appropriate to other people-not the Ministry of Defence-seeing the hardening of their equipment? How does that interface work? To me, it is not all your responsibility, Mr Harvey; equally, it is not all your responsibility, Mr Hendry. How does that work?

Nick Harvey: I agree with you: it is not all our responsibility. You correctly identify that the military aid to the civil authorities mechanism would be the means by which we would expect to give this assistance. Certainly, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 lays out systems by which this would be done. As a national asset, defence would not expect to be called on, except in the case of very large-scale incidents. In that sense, if something did kick off, rather as Mr Tesh indicated earlier, we would expect to be brought into the equation through the Cobra process. The scientific community shares information across Departments all the time. I am sure that it is keeping an eye on the evolving picture.

Sir John Beddington: Yes, I spoke to Mark Welland about this yesterday. I said that I was a bit puzzled that I was to be here, rather than him.

Mr Havard: So were we.

Sir John Beddington: There seem to be some crossed wires. He has indicated that, of course, he works in this area, and that some of it is extremely sensitive, but that he would be more than happy to answer questions about it. What he also said to me, to spare Mr Ferbrache’s blushes, is: "David Ferbrache knows a great deal about this," so in a sense he is there.

In terms of cross-government, we have a group of chief scientific advisers in all Departments. We meet once a week. We meet formally five or six times a year, and we have informal meetings once a week. I probably talk to Mark Welland twice a week on the telephone. The chief scientific adviser at DECC-David MacKay-Mark Welland and I would have conversations about some of the issues, and we have had probing discussions with the advisory committee that we referred to earlier. I think we are reasonably joined up. In the event, for example, of an emergency with Cobra, probably the very first person I would call would be Mark Welland, and we would network and cascade out whom we would want at the SAGE meetings.

Q106 Mr Havard: The reason why we are interested in some of this has to do with prioritisation and how much consideration is given to it at the appropriate levels. Everyone might be interested in it, but where is the co-ordination of it to make it a priority within the other systems? The issue is the relationship between defence and security. This is a newer area for us. Some people are involved in this-not just the Home Office, or the Ministry of Defence; it is not the usual, obvious people. We are trying to figure out where that is co-ordinated, so that each of the responsibilities is appropriate to those who have it, but equally so that they come together to make an appropriate equation that deals with the problem. Is it the Ministry of Defence’s responsibility to ensure that the issue is prioritised, in terms of security, national security, security strategy, and NSC consideration, or is it a Cabinet Office issue? Where does it rest, in terms of prioritisation and therefore ensuring that the appropriate money is spent by the appropriate Department to achieve the result?

Nick Harvey: The National Security Council is the answer. I do not know whether Mr Tesh wants to elaborate.

John Tesh: It is just that; the National Security Council was set up by the Government to bring together all the different interests in security. It has both a main council and a subordinate committee that deals with threats, hazards, resilience and contingencies, which has an even wider membership than the top-level National Security Council. The council is chaired by the Prime Minister and so, I believe, is the THRC-the subordinate committee.

Q107 Chair: I know what the answer to this will be, but do you think that there is enough resource devoted to this developing threat?

John Tesh: Are you talking about space weather?

Q108 Chair: Since there seems to be a pretty similar effect from both space weather and a high-level electro-magnetic pulse, I do not think that it really matters, does it?

John Tesh: It matters because if you are talking about nuclear weapon-generated EMP, the resource that has been put into it is, as David said, the deterrent. The Government’s counter-proliferation strategies and so forth, and also a certain amount of preparedness-

Q109 Chair: As opposed to resilience?

John Tesh: There is work on resilience, but the priority is to prevent the thing happening in the first place, because we are talking about a malicious event, and you can work on human intentions and capabilities. In terms of space weather, the resource going into this is much more a Government-industry partnership because of the main impacts. You cannot do a lot to prevent it, and it is the impact management and the hardening of selected sites that you have to deal with, and that, frankly, is with the industry. The Government are working with the industry to ensure that the right level of resource is going into resilience against both space weather events and other events that have similar impacts.

Q110 Chair: Sir John, I would be interested to hear from you. Following our conversation yesterday with Mark Welland, it seems that you were both as bewildered as the Minister, but he is not in front of us today.

Nick Harvey: I believe he is out of the country today, but from what you are saying, that was not the issue in question.

Chair: No, it was not.

Sir John Beddington: I just wanted to add something on the question about resources. As Mr Tesh has explained, this is seen in the space weather world as Government-industry co-operation. There is a lot of work going on in National Grid, as there properly should be. On what I think of as a Government responsibility, prediction, the work that is going on at the Met Office with NOAA is really quite substantial. There is a slightly silly description of it. The idea is to get sun-to-mud prediction capability, which is fairly obvious and explains what it is. We have a great deal more expertise in nearer-earth capability, in terms of prediction and modelling, than NOAA does. NOAA is better nearer the sun. That work is going on fairly well.

The expectation that I am getting from the Met Office chief scientists and other advisers is that there is potential at the moment to get a coronal mass ejection to a predictive capability of somewhere between one and four days, which would be enormously helpful. I am pretty confident that appropriate levels of resources are going into what is arguably purely the Government’s responsibility-prediction. That I am comfy with. It will be enhanced. As I have mentioned, we are exploring ways of enhancing that co-operation with the Americans.

Q111 Chair: I have two final questions. First, we keep the development of non-nuclear EMP technology under a considerably higher degree of security classification than other countries do. Does that make it difficult to share some of the information, best practice and development with our allies, and, given the amount of stuff that is available on Wikipedia, is it viable?

David Ferbrache: There are two questions in there.

Chair: That was only meant to be one.

David Ferbrache: The one on R and D collaboration with NATO is worth picking up on. We collaborate with our allies on non-nuclear EMP effects, and research and development programmes and countermeasures, and there is a research and technology organisation within NATO-we have a working group looking at those issues-so that is quite a close linkage.

In terms of classification, there is quite a bit of material on the internet. We routinely monitor that and assess it. Some of the devices are potentially viable; some are not. Most of them are roughly short-range; for instance, with modified microwave sources, you are talking about ranges in the category of hundreds of metres. We keep an eye on those threats. Is it classified? There are some classified areas. We do not want to share our view on what particular viable devices might be at the high end of what might be a non-nuclear EMP device, so we protect that very sensitively, because we do not wish to see further proliferation of those competent devices. That is the classification reason.

Q112 Chair: The final question is this: can you confirm what the Ministry of Defence said in the written evidence? It said: "cruder devices with limited ranges of effects may be achievable by non-States. There is evidence of the proliferation of such technology, which may lead to its acquisition by countries and/or non-state actors of concern to the UK in future years." Can you put a timing on that concern? It is obviously possible that terrorists could make use of such equipment.

David Ferbrache: Again, my judgment would be that viable devices with a short range could be readily produced in the next-well, actually now, frankly, from the information available from public sources, but they would be short-range.

Chair: Okay, thank you. Unless there are further questions, I would like to say thank you very much indeed for coming this morning. It has been helpful, and we will produce our report in due course, but in the meantime, many thanks to all our witnesses.

Prepared 10th November 2011