Preface. The article by Lewis (2017) below questions whether a nuclear bomb can really ruin our grid and cause societal collapse. All the other posts in the Fast Crash/Electromagnetic Pulse category think otherwise.
The most hopeful study that EMP effects from a nuclear bomb may not be as bad as expected is the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI 2017) study, which looked at the possible effects on one high-altitude EMP on the U.S. fleet of 37,000 bulk power transformers. These large transformers, often found in substations, are greater than 69,000 volts and convert electricity from high-voltage electricity to levels that are distributed around neighborhoods. “We found that there would likely be some failures, but those failures are relatively small in nature and not in the hundreds as had been contemplated from some of the reports in the past,” EPRI’s Manning said.
This article doesn’t question the effects of EMP’s, just whether North Korea has a nuclear warhead powerful enough: “Former Department of Defense and intelligence contractor Jack Liu described the threat from EMPs as “grossly overstated” and said North Korea had not developed nuclear warheads powerful enough to be effective” (Porter 2017).
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
Warnings that North Korea could detonate a nuclear bomb in orbit to knock out US electrical infrastructure are far-fetched, says arms expert. There is no shame in enjoying dystopian science fiction – it helps us contemplate the ways in which civilisation might fail.
But it is dangerous to take the genre’s allegorical warnings literally, as too many people do when talk turns to a possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. There have been repeated recent claims that North Korea could use a nuclear bomb in space to produce an EMP to ruin US infrastructure and cause societal collapse. This is silly.
We know a nuclear explosion can cause an EMP – a burst of energy that can interfere with electrical systems – because of a 1962 US test called Starfish Prime.
US nuclear weaponeers wanted to see if it was capable of blacking out military equipment. A bomb was launched to 400 kilometres above the Pacific before exploding with the force of 1.5 megatons of TNT. But it was a let-down for those hoping such blasts could knock out Soviet radar and radio.
The most notable thing on the ground were the visuals. Journalist Dick Stolley, in Hawaii, said the sky turned “a bright bilious green”.
Yet over the years, the effects of this test have been exaggerated. The US Congress was told that it “unexpectedly turned off the lights over a few million square miles in the mid-Pacific. This EMP also shut down radio stations, turned off cars, burned out telephone systems, and wreaked other mischief throughout the Hawaiian Islands, nearly 1,000 miles distant from ground zero.”
It didn’t. That was clear from the light-hearted tone of Stolley’s report. Immediate ground effects were limited to a string of street lights in Honolulu failing. But no one knows if the test was to blame.
Of course, we rely on electronics more today. Those warning of the EMP threat say it would lead to “planes falling from the sky, cars stalling on the roadways, electrical networks failing, food rotting”.
But evidence to back up such claims is lacking. A commission set up by the US Congress exposed 55 vehicles to EMP in a lab. Even at peak exposures, only six had to be restarted. A few more showed “nuisance” damage, like blinking dashboard displays. This is a far cry from the fantasies being aired as tensions with North Korea rise.
Nuclear weapons are scary enough without the fiction.
EPRI. 2017. Magnetohydrodynamic Electromagnetic Pulse Assessment of the Continental U.S. Electric Grid: Geomagnetically Induced Current and Transformer Thermal Analysis. Electric Power Research Institute.
Lewis, J. 2017. Would a North Korean space nuke really lay waste to the US? NewScientist.
Porter, T. 2017. Could a North Korean EMP Attack on the U.S. Really Cause Mass Starvation and Societal Collapse? Newsweek.