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In the event that MOST of the world population were wiped out in a plague / apocalypse that did not directly destroy infrastructure, just killed the people, how long would infrastructure like the power grid, phone network, internet, gps system continue to run?

Would nuclear power stations meltdown or do they have automated safety shutdowns?

Just to be clear i'm talking about a plague that kills 99.9% of the population of earth, leaving just 6 million people alive spread around the world.

If those 6 Million people can start again with a clean sheet and the technologies of 2016 I would imagine that they could re-build a world that would be OK, but if they are reduced to medieval levels of tech its a tougher place to be...

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  • $\begingroup$ Give about a 100 years for everything else and a thousand years for the nuclear reactors if nothing goes wrong and no I don't think they have automated shutdowns after a quick google check. Also I'm not sure people can ans this. $\endgroup$ – Skye Sep 5 '16 at 13:39
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    $\begingroup$ From industry experience a few years ago I'm pretty sure that mobile networks would be dead within days unless they get regular maintenance... $\endgroup$ – RogerB Sep 5 '16 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ I don't have experience on that so I gave an estimate on how long I presume fiber optic cables could last $\endgroup$ – Skye Sep 5 '16 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Okay. I'm confused. What's 'most'? 90%? 99%? 99.999999999999999999999%? Are we down to a thosand people? Five thousand? Five? Are these people well educated or just run of the mill shmucks from a backwater town in Nevahurdovitstan? Do they have the tools to maintain society as we know it, even if only on a smaller scale? Or are we talking about people who are just used to things 'working' while they complain when it doesn't? These are all vital factors if you want a viable answer. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Sep 5 '16 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ How fast did this plauge come through. I'm just saying that, if a plague killing 99.9% of people swept through, there would be some civil unrest and the associated smashing of smashable things, like internet infrastructure and power stations. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 5 '16 at 17:52
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Would you mind if I just give you a huge source of data that may be really useful?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_After_People

(OK, executive summary: nuclear power plants would just switch off, you should be more nervous about hydro dams, chemical plants, etc.)

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

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Nuclear power stations will have their chain reactions shut down:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scram

However, there is a serious problem remaining, namely decay heat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_heat)

Quotes from that article:

After one year, typical spent nuclear fuel generates about 10 kW of decay heat per tonne, decreasing to about 1 kW/t after ten years. Hence effective active or passive cooling for spent nuclear fuel is required for a number of years.

and

If no cooling system is working to remove the decay heat from a crippled and newly shut down reactor, the decay heat may cause the core of the reactor to reach unsafe temperatures within a few hours or days, depending upon the type of core. These extreme temperatures can lead to minor fuel damage (e.g. a few fuel particle failures (0.1 to 0.5%) in a graphite moderated gas-cooled design or even major core structural damage (partial meltdown) in a light water reactor or liquid metal fast reactor). Chemical species released from the damaged core material may lead to further explosive reactions (steam or hydrogen) which may further damage the reactor.

(References have been removed from the quoted texts.)

In short, the reactors will shut down, but if there's no-one left to keep the cooling going properly for long enough, then it's quite likely there will be some serious accidents.

So there's a very good chance that large-scale power generation will be shut down rather quickly, within a few days or weeks. Not necessarily broken and unrepairable, though.

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This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

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    $\begingroup$ Let's be honest. Most of the world is dead. Not really a big deal right? $\endgroup$ – Skye Sep 5 '16 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Sky True. By the time society is back to a point where it will matter, it probably won't matter anymore. $\endgroup$ – Fayth85 Sep 5 '16 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'll amend my answer a little bit, since your comment has made me realize I wasn't quite answering the original question $\endgroup$ – Falc Sep 5 '16 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not even sure why the OP would want to know this, with our current population of 7.4 billion people , 0.1% would be about seven million people left alive. And it's not necessary that they even live In the state. I would say another 2/3 would die off leaving around 25 thousand people left alive and unless they find each other or can find supplies... $\endgroup$ – Skye Sep 5 '16 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Sky In a world where overpopulation is a serious matter, Someone (like the government/military) could engineer a virus and Greenpeace extremists could steal it and release it to give the world another chance. in terms of communication, searching for Ham radios at military bunkers would be my first attempt $\endgroup$ – Sarfaraaz Sep 5 '16 at 14:18

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