While no one can argue that the threat of a nuclear bomb obliterating a city (or country) is devastating, the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack may be similarly harmful and incredibly destructive, according to some experts.
An EMP occurs when a nuclear device is detonated just above the atmosphere, causing enough radiation to create a very powerful electromagnetic field capable of frying the electric grid and most electrical devices in the vicinity.
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It would be like blowing a fuse on a national scale, with industry, economy and emergency services completely crippled within a matter of seconds.
Data centers, power plants, telecommunication networks and almost anything we have come to rely on would likely collapse from the effects of an EMP blast, and yet, so far, most governments are doing very little about protecting against such an attack, even as the likelihood increases.
In 2000, Congress established a commission to assess the threat to the United States of an EMP attack and four years later, the committee presented a 70-page summary of the threat, with a final report issued in 2008.
According to that report, “several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication.”
The report went on to say that EMP was one of just a handful of threats that with “catastrophic consequences” for society, which could cover a wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon.
“It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power,” it read.
In congressional testimony, NASA Deputy Administrator and former science advisor to the President, Dr. William R. Graham, added that “… the degradation of infrastructure could have irreversible effects on the country’s ability to support its population.”
Indeed, speaking to the Times of Israel recently, Schnurr called the solution “extremely affordable.”
The EIS works with both governments and power providers to try and coordinate international efforts on electric infrastructure protection. Not just against terrorism, either. Solar flares can easily cause enough geomagnetic disturbance to cause a similar effect. The last recorded incident happened 150 years ago, observed by British solar astronomer Richard Carrington, and many scientists believe the chances of getting through another 30 years without severe solar flares are just 50 percent.
To protect against the grid getting fried, countries would need to harden electrical infrastructure with things like geomagnetically induced current blockers, which cost little but are not yet mandated by the government.
So here’s a thought; instead of spending billions making and stockpiling weaponry, why do governments not spend a fraction of that amount to defensively protect their most important resource –electricity—from disaster? Certainly sounds sensible to me, but what do I know? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.
RTewell is right... a balloon would work. That is a threat to the U.S. West Coast especially, since the upper level winds would carry the balloon the right direction. To use a balloon for the East Coast, you would need to launch from the Midwest.
(This assumes that terrorists would not want to risk having the balloon stay aloft long enough to float across the country.)
In fact, the US has already done high altitude nuclear tests using balloon-launched bombs.
The problem when discussing the EMP threat is that it sounds too much like science fiction. People ignore the threat, thinking it is only as real as the Star Wars Death Star.
Take, for example, NBC's new TV show "Revolution." The "EMP" in Revolution isn't a real EMP.... it is fictional. Revolution's "EMP" shuts off all power *worldwide* and seems to *block* power completely, unless you have a secret device.
That's fictional, not real. A real EMP would knock out the power grid in areas under the blast, but would not block electricity.
We've created a YouTube video that compares Revolution's EMP vs. the real threat. It shows photos of the power grid equipment that could be destroyed by a real EMP. (The video is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWd93u-Xi8Y).
I hope you'll watch it. It will let you respond with facts and specifics when someone tells you that this is all made up. It offers specifics that will let you evaluate the threat from an EE perspective.
We also have an EMP simulator on our site, EMPCover.com. EE folks will be interested in seeing the energy pattern, which is not uniform. It is much easier to understand if you look at the graphics.
No to belittle this threat, but I am among the skeptics that think this issue has been over blown, not to the same level as Y2K but if you think on the basic electromagnetic properties of such weapon. That such pulse effects decay at the square root ratio from the distance of impact. So unless many weapons are deployed at all mayor urban areas, at all critical power plant sites and industrial sites. The threat is regional in nature. No dooms day scenario, USA has an advantage over European and Asian countries where the population densities are greater, most people would survive, it would some losses but most people would overcome such tragedy. America will endure.
No need to use a rocket. Weather balloons work just fine. You only need to get to between 30 and 50 kilometers (easy peasy for a weather balloon). Dude on Sunday flew to 39km in a helium balloon and jumped out. Another guy, took off with weather balloons in a lawn chair. No way to police or stop it. In fact, a weather balloon with some sort of very easily accessible "drone" technology (electric motors) to allow it to be "steered" - would be ideal. Could likely be done with R/C parts and a couple of iPhones. Might be a fun experiment...hmmmm... Not the EM pulse part...but the steerable weather balloon part.
I think that en mass, people tend to not truly recognize dangers or threats until a significant even happens to demonstrate that threat. On an individual level, there are plenty of people that can recognize threats, which is why we have articles and studies. But it's the masses that approve funding and or demand action.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.