What Is an EMP Bomb?
During the October 12 hearing , experts warned the US House of Representatives that an EMP bomb, likely from North Korea, could kill up to 90% of all Americans within a year. But what is an EMP bomb? And could such a weapon be so destructive?
What is EMP?
EMP stands for Electromagnetic Pulse , which is considered to be a short burst of electromagnetic radiation. This type of explosion can come from many sources, including our own sun, but in this case we are talking about the impulse from a nuclear explosion that occurs at extremely high altitudes.
When a nuclear explosion occurs in space over a target, three types of electromagnetic pulses follow: E1, E2, and E3. Pulse E1 turns on high-energy gamma rays, striking air molecules at an altitude of about 20 miles, and then hitting them with electrons, which are drawn in by the natural magnetic field of the Earth. Impulse E2 comes from high energy neutrons that are fired in all directions, while impulse E3 comes from the size of the nuclear fireball itself, which affects the Earth’s magnetic field. As nuclear physicist Dr. Yusuf Butt explains , these impulses affect everything in the line of sight of a nuclear explosion. For example, an explosion at an altitude of 60 miles could affect the Earth within a radius of 700 miles. However, there is a “safe space” that is not affected by all three impulses, almost directly under the explosion due to the Earth’s magnetic field.
What can it do?
EMP bombs do not cause direct casualties. The explosion takes place too far from people. Their power comes from tampering, malfunctioning, or damage to electronic equipment. This could mean that electrical grids will fail , cars and planes lose power, computer systems become unusable, and perhaps even lost emergency backup power in facilities such as hospitals. It sounds pretty intimidating and the EMP blasts pose a serious threat, but the effects are largely untested and exaggerated due to pop culture and the inflammatory statements of politicians.
However, we are confident in some aspects of EMP nuclear explosions. According to Butt , each of the three different types of impulses – E1, E2, and E3 – affects different types of electrical systems differently. E1 affects local antennas, short cables, indoor equipment, integrated circuits, sensors, communications systems, protection systems, and computers; E2 is similar to a lightning strike (therefore not nearly as dangerous as we know how to deal with it) and strikes longer conductive lines, vertical antenna towers and aircraft with wire antennas; and E3 affects power lines and long-distance communication lines such as submarine and underground cables, which can damage the commercial power grid and land lines. Overall, most of the damage will be done by E1 and E3 pulses, disrupting the technology we used to rely on. After an explosion, generators can still provide electricity, but for the most part, people will not have access to electricity. This can be terrible or extremely inconvenient until it is fixed – this is all speculation.
Should I worry?
An EMP attack on the US from North Korea is probably more likely than a direct attack by a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile. Why? The EMP bomb requires much less precision to be effective. While he is leaving somewhere above us, they, so to speak, have sunk our battleship. And high-altitude ICBMs are difficult to stop when compared to lower-level ICBMs such as land based nuclear strikes. Our Midcourse Defense (GMD) ground-based missile system is capable of reaching space, but other systems like THAAD or Aegis will have a much harder time.
But then again, the specifics of EMP bombs and what happens after the explosion are still in the air and are, for the most part, exaggerated. In 1962, the test weapon STARFISH PRIME, which included the launch of a nuclear bomb capacity of 1.4 megatons of 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean, caused quite a stir. The electromagnetic waves spread to Hawaii, about 900 miles away, causing damage to telephone company equipment, causing street lamps to flash, and even damaging people’s garage doors (they began to open and close on their own). But there were no power outages, the telephone lines were working, and there was no radio interference throughout the event.
In another example, the EMP Commission tested the effects of electromagnetic pulses on 37 cars and 18 trucks in a laboratory setting. Jeffrey Lewis of Foreign Policy explains :
While EMP proponents argue that an EMP attack would result in “planes falling from the sky, cars stopping in the roadway, electrical outages, food rotting,” the actual results were much more modest. Of the 55 vehicles exposed to EMP, six at the highest exposure level required restarting. Several more showed “nasty” damage to the electronics, such as flashing dashboard lights.
So the claim that the EMP bomb will kill 90% of Americans is almost certainly complete nonsense. For example, Popular Mechanics’ Kyle Mizokami points out that the source of this information is a quote from Congressman Roscoe Bartlett describing a science fiction novel he read called One Second Later – not real data of any kind. In addition, Bartlett was so terrified by the idea of a national power grid failure that he cut off the grid to live off the land . Not entirely reliable source of information, to put it mildly. In truth, no one knows if an EMP bomb will be able to disable the country’s energy system, and what size the bomb would be required to accomplish such a feat, and at what height. Even if North Korea did strike, it is unlikely that they would have large enough weapons to send us back to the Stone Age. And they will probably get only one chance for this …
However, we are still somewhat vulnerable and now we have no official way to prepare for such an attack. On September 30 this year, the Trump administration closed the Congressional Threat Commission on Electromagnetic Pulse to the United States after it had operated for more than 16 years. Members of the former commission, including Dr. William R. Graham and Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, have tried to ask the administration to get things back on track. They assume that the US infrastructure is not prepared for an EMP attack and believe that US intelligence is underestimating North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. After all, such attacks can be defended, but the cost of such a shield is in the billions, and it will probably take years to implement. Nowadays, resting in peace knowing the EMP impact would not kill 90% of the people in the country.