New estimate says that a nuclear EMP attack can generate a year-long blackout followed by societal collapse
A nuclear hit needs no description as effects are far more than a simple light. When a bomb detonates, electrons go in acceleration and create a very powerful magnetic field. This is called an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.
The EMP had been predicted by scientists, since first nuclear test, but its effects was far larger than expected.
Nuclear EMP includes a high-frequency electromagnetic shock wave called E1 that can potentially damage or destroy virtually any electronic system. Consequently, a high-altitude nuclear EMP event could cause broad damage of electronics and critical infrastructures across continental North America, while also causing deep damage to industrial and personal property, including to automobiles and personal computers.
Check this animation made by Isao Hashimoto that shows every nuclear bomb explosion on Earth from 1945 — the US test before the bombs dropped on Japan — to 1998, when India and Pakistan joined the nuclear program.
I grew up with the Cold War and seeing this gives me a chill every time.
Though there has been no major detonation in the last 10 years, the development of small nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles by new, radical U.S. adversaries, beginning with North Korea, the threat of a nuclear EMP attack against the U.S. becomes a real one.
An EMP Commission was established in 2001, but on September 30, 2017, the Department of Defense, after withholding a significant part of the budget allocated by Congress, terminated funding the EMP Commission. In the same month, North Korea detonated a bomb that it plausibly described as being capable of “super-powerful EMP” attack.
The New War – how scary is the EMP
These days, our nation faces a potentially imminent threat of nuclear attack from North Korea. There are some chances for an ICBM to hit the US land. Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And this is something that I can’t ignore from the moment that every new one goes farther than the other.
But, the real danger we face now is not just those missile.
It’s an EMP attack that can be made by a North Korean Satellite any time.
An EMP weapon can fit in any of the 2 satellites KMS-3 and KMS-4 that in present orbit over the United States. North Korea’s KMS-3 and KMS-4 satellites were launched to the south on polar trajectories and passed over the United States on their first orbit. Pyongyang launched KMS-4 on February 7, 2017, shortly after its fourth illegal nuclear test on January 6.
We know that a nuclear explosion can cause an EMP – a burst of energy that can interfere with any electrical systems. We tested ourselves in 1962 with Starfish Prime.
And the effects were devastating.
The EMP knocked-out 36 strings of street lights in Honolulu, caused a telecommunications microwave relay station to fail, burned out High-Frequency radio links and even set off burglar alarms.
Russia also conducted a series of high-altitude nuclear bursts to test EMP effects over Kazakhstan in 1961 called K Project.
That test destroyed the Kazakh electric grid.
What we must notice is the modern electronics, in part because they are designed to operate at much lower voltages, are much more vulnerable to EMP than the electronics from 1962.
Still, a similar EMP event over the U.S. today would likely damage about 365 large transformers in the U.S. power grid, leaving about 40 percent of the U.S. population without electrical power for 4 to 10 years.
The long-term physical effects from Starfish Prime died down after a few months, but the ramifications live on today.
The proof is that in 2010, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency issued a report called “Collateral Damage to Satellites from an EMP Attack“, and I highly recommend reading it if you want to know more on this experiment. It details the effects of a high-altitude nuclear blast, and how one could be used to disable an entire country.
Are we vulnerable to an EMP attack?
When assessing the potential vulnerability of U.S. military forces and civilian infrastructures to an EMP attack, it is necessary to understand that most of our today systems work together. Even if an attack will damage a small fraction of the total, it will cause total system failure.
Failures like Internet or electric grid would have catastrophic consequences. Highly disruptive blackouts caused in the past single-point failures that turned into cascades ones:
- The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 put around 50 million people in the dark and generated costs of $6 billion
- The San Francisco blackout in April 2017 that was caused by the failure of a single high voltage breaker
In the event of a nuclear EMP attack on the United States, a widespread blackout is inevitable. From a modelling made by FERC it assesses that an attack that destroys 9 of the 2,000 EHV transformers in the U.S. electric grid effects will be catastrophic and will put at risk lives of millions.
A nuclear EMP attack would collapse not just the electric grid, but will directly damage transportation systems, industry and manufacturing, satellite navigation, telecommunications systems and computers, banking and finance, and the infrastructures for food and water.
Jetliners carry about 500,000 passengers on over 1,000 aircraft in the skies over the U.S. at any given moment. Many, most or virtually all of these would crash, depending upon the strength of the EMP field.
Damage to SCADAS and safety control systems would likely result in widespread industrial accidents, including gas line explosions, chemical spills, fires at refineries and chemical plants producing toxic clouds.
Cell phones, personal computers, the internet, and the modern electronic economy that supports personal and big business cash, credit, debit, stock market and other transactions and record keeping would cease operations.
Worst of all, about 72 hours after the blackout, the nation’s food supply will begin to spoil. Supermarkets are resupplied by these large regional food warehouses that are, in effect, the national larder, collectively having enough food to sustain the lives of 310 million Americans for about one month, at normal rates of consumption.
As much as I want to distance myself from any horrifying scenario, there are a lot we have learned about this phenomenon.
EMP is fascinating and don’t need nukes to occur.
The Sun blasts periodically high energy particles during solar storms that can damage in the same way our satellites. Big storms can hit vast areas and create a blackout. One day can be enough to create a little chaos.
The only difference is that a super-storm generates only E3 EMP which is a form of wavelengths that can damage EHV transformers and not small targets as computers or autos. Still, normal geomagnetic storms occur everyday and can cause communication problems in countries like Norway, Finland and Canada.
And we must remember that on July 22, 2012, NASA warned that a powerful solar flare narrowly missed the Earth that would have generated a geomagnetic super-storm, like the 1859 Carrington Event.
All these are not myths.
It is a myth that terrorists need a sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile to make an EMP attack. In fact, any missile, including short- range missiles that can deliver a nuclear warhead to an altitude of 30 kilometers or more, can make a catastrophic EMP attack on the United States.
For me this is enough to stay prepared. What can you do?
- Have a fully stocked survival kit. Store long-term supplies of water and food, and make sure you have essentials like medical equipment.
- Know the nearest shelter to your home. If you live in an apartment building then your underground garage is likely safer than running outside to the nearest subway station.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Spot the best places to go in case you need to. A Bug-out shelter is the best option.
- Take responsibility for yourself and your family. Change your mindset. Rather than just doing a weekly shop for groceries, think ahead to what you might need in an emergency.
- Read up and study what to do during disaster or war scenario, learning tips like how to produce water or hunt.
The main focus of the federal government has been to protect the nation’s power grid system from a cyber attack more than an EMP style attack. We need to look not just at North Korea, but at the threats emanating from countries that have assimilated an EMP attack into their military strategies.
It’s time to take serious these threats and prepare for them.
Do you agree with me?