Liam Fox highlights solar flare threat to power grids

Defence Secretary Liam Fox will today highlight the threat to Britain's essential infrastructure, amid warnings by scientists that it could be paralysed by a once-in-a-century solar flare.

Dr Fox is delivering the keynote address to an international conference on the vulnerability of electricity grids around the world to natural disaster and hostile attack.

Earlier this year, the US space agency Nasa warned that a peak in the sun's magnetic energy cycle and the number of sun spots or flares around 2013 could generate huge radiation levels.

The resulting solar storm could cause a geomagnetic storm on earth, knocking out electricity grids around the world for hours, days, or even months, bringing much of normal life grinding to halt.

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

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

"As the nature of our technology becomes more complex, so the threat becomes more widespread," he is expected to say.

"While we all benefit from the products of scientific advances so we also create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by our enemies.

"However advanced we become the chain of our security is only as strong as its weakest link."

The conference, taking place at Westminster, is being hosted by the Electric Infrastructure Security Council and the Henry Jackson Society think-tank.