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A catastrophic event occurs that sends a disruptive wave around the globe, which renders every electronic device inoperative for 24 hours. It is not an EMP, but something else, so EMP hardened technology is still affected. After 24 hours the disruption ends and power returns as normal.

I don't see this as a world-ending scenario but am aware that major global disasters would occur. However, in particular, what would happen to the hundreds of nuclear power stations and nuclear powered military vessels? Is 24 hours long enough for reactors to go into meltdown and how could this be avoided without the use of any kind of functioning electrical equipment? Also, any advice on what the world might be like after those 24 hours would be helpful and any guides on recovery and rebuilding times.

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closed as too broad by anon, Ash, MichaelK, Azuaron, Secespitus Nov 1 '17 at 15:10

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but feel this question is far too broad, and I really can't even think of a good way to break it down into a more manageable question. You seem to want to explore the results of a "what if" type question, but honestly, the only things you need to consider are those which are relevant to your story and your characters. If your characters need to take the train, find out if the train would work. If they decide to drive in a car, find out if a car would work. As soon as it's established that your characters can't use electronics, they're going to start looking for alternatives anyway $\endgroup$ – Pleiades Nov 1 '17 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ welcome to WBSE, please check out the help center for guidelines on how to ask effective questions. As it stands this is entirely to broad and opinion based and you are effectively asking us to define your world for you. I suggest breaking this question up into smaller questions $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 1 '17 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ You should have a look at the novel Blackout by Marc Elsberg. It explores how Europe would face a lasting blackout and is based on some governmental studies from european studies. I think the author mentiones that he expands the time it takes for things to take effect - otherwise the novel would be too short and basically end with the lights out of the whole population. Not quite what you are looking for, but might be interesting for your scenario. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Nov 1 '17 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ Hello and welcome to Worldbuilding. Unfortunately I need to put a close vote on your post, because this is much too broad. You have come up with a concept ("Electricity goes away"), but then you have not tried to build a world at all. You just throw it out here and ask us to construct the outcome for you. While this would be a great topic for the chat, it is not at all suitable as a question. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Nov 1 '17 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ Also note that it will not be only nuclear power plants that will go haywire and cause problems... every industry will have their processes going out of control. And while nuclear power-plants can be nasty (if they have not fixed release filters; passive filters are effective enough to render a meltdown a non-issue) there are thousands of chemical industries that are just as bad, even worse with their proximity to populated areas. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Nov 1 '17 at 15:09
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The majority of people would be "technically" unaffected. The obviously weird situation would be the main concern but in general most people wouldn't be in any life threatening situations. Think massive hurricane and how they affect the area (more on this later.)

All vehicles would stop, this wouldn't cause that many automotive accidents as they'd just slowly come to a stop. Breaks and steering are mechanical so that would still work.

Boats would stop, but that wouldn't affect much except being at the mercy of currents. Bigger boats could have bigger issues if near ports or other objects are their momentum would carry them on for a bit.

Airplanes are tricky. Some planes (even large passenger planes) can glide mechanically, others can't.

Power stations are interesting. Most have multiple fail-safes. Nuclear included. for example, many nuclear plants have the control rods held out WITH power, so when they lose power the control rods drop and reaction stops. It isn't all that likely that any of these would fail catastrophically, they might fail, but not with a bang.

So where are the real problems?

Medical care. Any patient being kept alive with the help of an electric device. Pacemakers, insulin pumps, air pumps, IV feeds, and so on. Granted many of these are in care settings like hospitals and health-care buildings, but there aren't enough health-care providers to deal with all of these.

Certain other utilities could suffer decent problem, but likely not life threatening or catastrophic. Say sewage or drain pumps, there might be a decent bit of flooding in some tunnels.

Another concern would be the lack of communication. This could cause problems such as panic, rioting and looting, or it could change nothing. Location and societal differences would change the outcome here. Keep in mind this is still just one day. The lack of communication makes organization very difficult. The government can't do much to help, people don't know what to do or where to go. Some go home, some go wild. It would take time for people to go crazy without knowing if this is the new way of the world or not, and how far reaching the effect is.

At the end of the day it would be a freak occurrence everyone would remember and loss of life would likely be high, but it wouldn't be nearly as catastrophic as you'd imagine.

Bringing up the hurricane from the beginning. There is a bit of everything when a hurricane comes through and wrecks the infrastructure of a place. In general people try to keep their lives intact. Power and utilities fail. Communication becomes difficult or impossible (except radio). Looting does occur, some people do commit crimes. The first day is rarely the worst, however.

OH! Also fringe case. Everyone dies. Electricity with the brain and heart stop too, so all life stops.

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    $\begingroup$ No communications. A good author can take that either way, from a lovely day spent barbecuing everything that was in the refrigerator...to rumors run amok, panic in the streets, looting and shooting and mayhem, oh my. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 1 '17 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ Oops. I had a paragraph on communications. I cut it to move it. Let me add it back in there. $\endgroup$ – oxide7 Nov 1 '17 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733, I doubt that it is really the author's choice. No power or communications following a hurricane or blizzard, sure its no big deal... have a barbecue and enjoy the peace and quite. No power and no logical explanation of why... panic in the streets! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 1 '17 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor I'm willing to bet that at least for several hours, most people in the countryside would just shrug and go on with their routine. Maybe some would go "huh, that's weird that the car doesn't start either", but that'd probably be about the extent of the "panic". Power outages may be relatively rare in the cities, but they are a fairly common occurance in the countryside in a lot of places, and dare I say a significant fraction of people who live outside of the population centers are fairly prepared for such events. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 1 '17 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Without a doubt. I had a section about rural vs urban, but it was all getting long winded. The more technology in the area the more affected people would feel. Heck if you lived in the boonies and it happened while you slept you might miss half or more of the event before you realized something was even off. $\endgroup$ – oxide7 Nov 1 '17 at 17:42
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Okay to start with general casualties then I'll do the nuclear issue; just about anyone who is underground or underwater for any reason will die, ventilation failures, door failures, fire suppression systems going haywire etc... makes the underground a place not to be, control failures for submarines will leave most of them plummeting into water deeper than their crush depth unable to blow ballast. Anyone in a heavier-than-air craft is coming down fast whether they survive or not depends on luck and skill in the cockpit and exactly where they are when the engines quit, a lot of aircraft are going to come down on urban centres that suddenly down have the capability to fight fires with no power to the pumps. A lot of hospital patients are going to die starting with people on breathing vents when the lights go out. There will be traffic accidents and rail crashes as control systems cease to function, petrol vehicles will stop immediately but diesels can keep going as long as they had a hot engine when the power went out. Places that are totally reliant on pumps for drinking water won't immediately run out of water but if people don't know what's coming you could, will, see widespread panic, looting, riots and general civil disorder and chaos.

With nuclear power it depends on the exact reactor in question, most reactors worldwide are water cooled by electric pumps, those reactors have the potential to blow within minutes of losing power if their control rods freeze, which they probably will without power to the control array servos. Even reactors that "fail to safed", i.e. the control systems are set to shutdown in the event of main power failure usually can't response with all electrically powered systems inoperable so you'd be looking at meltdowns across the globe. You can build two types of reactor than don't fail under these circumstances, one uses liquid sodium with uranium in suspension, it was invented in the 70s and "the laws of physics prevent it ever overheating". The system basically works by expanding when it gets hot thus slowly the nuclear reaction and cooling back down to operationally safe temperatures. The other option is to use a gravitational control rod system where the rods are held out of the reactor by powered equipment and drop under their own eight when the power fails, simple but effective. The first system isn't used because A. sodium is dangerous and liquid sodium is much worse and B. it is relatively awkward to refuel, the second system is not used because A. if the core is above a certain temperature the rods can't drop without a mechanical assist and B. because power surges have been known to trip the system prematurely.

For a good existing literary treatment of this scenario read S.M Stirling's Dies the Fire, and when I say good I mean grim and realistic. Do remember when reading it that the world population has grown by a third since then so it would be commensurately worse if it happened today.

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