America’s Great Vulnerability – Threat by EMP, Part II
In part 1 of America’s Great Vulnerability – Threat by EMP, we discussed two possible causes for an EMP: one initiated by a solar Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) impacting the earth’s magnetosphere and the other caused by a high altitude nuclear blast. The fact of the matter is that the presentation of these two sources of EMP will differ to some degree with regard to the type of damage they will cause, though both sources promise to damage the grid, which will be devastating in and of itself.
The E1 Pulse
There are actually three different types of EMP pulses, known as E1, E2, and E3, and while a high altitude nuclear blast will likely manifest all three separate components, CMEs are typically only associated the E3 pulse. The E1 pulse occurs with the ionization of atoms in the upper atmosphere from a nuclear blast producing gamma radiation (Compton Effect). Free electrons (electric current) traveling near the speed of light interact with the earth’s magnetic field and this causes a very intense, but short pulse lasting no more than a microsecond, to occur at ground level.
The E1 manifests itself as a high voltage spike on conductors, semiconductors, solid state electronics and the like. Depending on the intensity and amount of the gamma radiation in the atmosphere, ground level electronics may experience pulse magnitudes of up to 50,000V per meter. This is far in excess of the breakdown voltage most electronics can handle. The duration of this E1 component is far too short for most standard surge suppressors, and electronics do not necessarily need to be energized or plugged into an outlet to be impacted and are vulnerable if they are not properly shielded.
The purported existence of super-EMP weapons are far more damaging and easily exceed the 50,000V/meter limit of standard second generation nuclear weapons; they do so through the nearly instantaneous production of hyper-energetic gamma radiation.
The E2 Pulse
The E2 component generally follows the E1 component and lasts from about a microsecond to one second. The E2 pulse arises from scattered gamma rays which are produced by radiated neutrons of a nuclear blast. While the characteristics of this phase of EMP are very similar to those of a lightning strike, the severity is far less than the electric surge caused by a direct lightning hit. Nonetheless, the E2 pulse can cause significant damage principally because the systems in place to protect against E2 may have been impaired or damaged by the preceding E1 pulse.
The E3 Pulse
The E3 component arises from the quick distortion of the earth’s magnetic field from the nuclear blast and then its subsequent restoration. If you recall from the previous article on solar CMEs (part 1), the EMP is created from disruption of solar magnetic flux lines and their restoration, so the causality is very similar to the E3 of a nuclear blast. This third pulse type is relatively slow, lasting tens of seconds to hundreds of seconds.
The mode of damage results from geomagnetically induced currents into long conductors – think power lines. Aside from damage to orbiting satellites and disruption of communication, quasi-DC currents appearing on AC power lines from an E3 CME-type pulse can damage power transformers, through the melting of the copper coils. This can render the grid unusable for months or possibly even years depending on the severity, and the area of impact may be significant.
Unlike the E1 blast component, the E3 component does not have the tendency to damage electronic systems which are disconnected from the power grid or other long conductors. A length of conductor is key.
Inverse Square Law
The inverse square law in physics states that the intensity of an effect is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of the effect. In other words, the farther away you are from the source, the less significant the impact of the effect. Does the inverse square law apply to EMP? If I live on the East Coast, and a detonation occurs over Kansas, do I need to worry (for example)? Unfortunately, the inverse square law does not really apply to nuclear EMP.
While the source detonation may occur over one thousand miles away, the E1 occurs high in the stratosphere (20km to 40km overhead), covering a significant area of impact beneath it. The E1 tends to saturate the atmospheric layer (to approximately 50000 volts per meter with conventional weapons), which means that the intensity is fairly uniform over a very large area. And while inverse square law typically refers to total energy density, the impact of damage by E1 EMP in linear (as in volts per meter), indicating that the drop off in intensity is not as dramatic as one would see if it followed the inverse square law.
According to Jerry Emanuelson of Futurescience, LLC, “If the inverse square law applied to EMP in the way that many people argue, then radio and television broadcasting would only be effective very close to the transmitting site.”
In Part 1 of this article, I attached an image which I will include again here.
Depending upon the burst height of a nuclear weapon, the impacted area will indeed vary. As you can see in the above image, the higher the burst occurs in the atmosphere, the larger the area of impact will be.
Protecting Against EMP
In a subsequent post, we will cover some steps that you can take to secure sensitive electronics from an EMP blast, but due to the entirely different nature of the E1, E2, and E3 components, there is not just any one thing that you can do to protect against the ravages of an EMP strike. In fact, there is not really anything you can do to protect against the E3, CME-type, component. This problem needs to be addressed at the system level, through the hardening of the infrastructure against EMP. How, in fact, does one harden the infrastructure against EMP?
In an article entitled Texas May Become a Testing Ground for Defending the Grid From EMPs by Popular Mechanics:
“… utilities are deploying tactics that include shielding control rooms with Faraday cages, using new grounded metallic relay houses, grounding and shielding power supply and communications cables, installing robust surge protectors/arresters, increasing use of fiber optic cables for communication, and neutral blockers for transformers.”
However, given the costly nature of these modifications, and the perception on the part of the various utility companies that this type of attack “unlikely”, it is doubtful that these efforts will go very far in the foreseeable future. However, is it really up to the industry players to make these determinations? Do they even have the capability to assess whether something is unlikely or not?
Doesn’t the protection of the grid fall under civil defense? If so, then the government should be stepping in to ensure that the grid is hardened against an EMP strike, be it through a nuclear attack or by a geomagnetic storm.
The Congressional EMP Commission
Established in the year 2001 through an Act of Congress, a Commission comprised of concerned scientists, engineers, and security experts have been warning of America’s great vulnerability and the potential devastation of an EMP-style event. In 2004, the EMP commission was approached by two Russian generals who leaked that a Russian design for a super-EMP weapon was “accidentally transferred to the North Koreans.”( Question: How do you accidentally transfer something like that?!)
In 2004, two Russian generals, both EMP experts, warned the EMP Commission that the design for Russia’s Super-EMP warhead, capable of generating high-intensity EMP fields over 100,000 volts per meter, was “accidentally” transferred to North Korea. They also said that due to “brain drain,” Russian scientists were in North Korea, as were Chinese and Pakistani scientists according to the Russians, helping with the North’s missile and nuclear weapon programs. In 2009, South Korean military intelligence told their press that Russian scientists are in North Korea helping develop an EMP nuclear weapon. In 2013, a Chinese military commentator stated North Korea has Super-EMP nuclear weapons.
Super-EMP weapons are low-yield and designed to produce not a big kinetic explosion, but rather a high level of gamma rays, which generates the high-frequency E1 EMP that is most damaging to the broadest range of electronics. (source)
The report goes on to talk about potential delivery methods, and one of those comes from a nuclear-armed satellite.
North Korea could make an EMP attack against the United States by launching a short-range missile off a freighter or submarine or by lofting a warhead to 30 kilometers burst height by balloon. While such lower-altitude EMP attacks would not cover the whole U.S. mainland, as would an attack at higher-altitude (300 kilometers), even a balloon-lofted warhead detonated at 30 kilometers altitude could blackout the Eastern Electric Power Grid that supports most of the population and generates 75 percent of U.S. electricity.
Or an EMP attack might be made by a North Korean satellite, right now. A Super-EMP weapon could be relatively small and lightweight and could fit inside North Korea’s Kwangmyongsong-3 (KMS-3) and Kwangmyongsong-4 (KMS-4) satellites. These two satellites presently orbit over the United States, and over every other nation on Earth– demonstrating, or posing, a potential EMP threat against the entire world. (source)
Consider that America’s great technological advantage in a military confrontation could easily be countered in an EMP-style attack. Such an attack, should one occur, would effectively “even the playing field” for any nuclear-capable nation desiring a chance to defeat America or at least inflict great pain upon America. In other words, America’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. But it is worse than that. According to EMP Commission Chairman Dr. Vincent Pry along with former CIA Director James Woolsey have gone so far to warn:
“a single warhead delivered by North Korean satellite could blackout the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for over a year – killing 9 of 10 Americans by starvation and societal collapse.”(source)
In 2008, the Congressional EMP Commission presented to Congress an estimate of $2 billion dollars to harden the grids critical infrastructure, consisting of around 2,000 medium- to large-sized transformers along with their SCADA systems. Compare $2 billion dollars to the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the military per year. For example, in 2008, the Military budget was $696 billion dollars ! (source) Did Congress act on the EMP Commission’s recommendation, which would amount to 0.2% of the military budget for that year? No, they turned a deaf ear. Crickets.
Later, the Congressional Commission proposed a more aggressive plan which was developed over an eight-year period to protect all infrastructure from EMP. This plan would take 3-5 years to implement at a price tag of $10-$20 billion dollars, which is still a mere drop in the bucket when compared to overall military spending. The proposed plan would protect critical infrastructure against cyber-attack, sabotage or natural disaster, such as CME. Wouldn’t the gravity of this situation would warrant the government to elevate the recommendations of the Congressional EMP Commission, including securing of the grid?
Well, in fact, in the face of these existential threats to America’s critical infrastructure, the Department of Defense decided to defund and effectively disband the EMP Commission on September 30, 2017!
Does the government really think there is nothing to worry about, to warrant terminating the only competent advisory body to deal with this scenario? Is this really “move along, nothing to see here”?
Since 2011, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has conducted drills to “validate the readiness of the Electricity Sub-sector to respond to a cyber incident, strengthen utilities’ crisis response functions, and provide input for internal security program improvements.” These typically two-day simulation exercises occur every two years and involve collaboration between government and industry to gauge response to an attack or incident. These series of exercises are known as GridEx. As an example, GridEx IV in 2017 was the largest simulation exercise held to date:
WASHINGTON (November 17, 2017) – On November 15-16, more than 6,000 participants representing more than 400 organizations from across the electric power industry and federal and state governments participated in the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC’s) energy grid security and incident response exercise, GridEd IV. This two-day exercise was designed to test coordination among industry and government stakeholders, as well as their cyber and physical security incident response protocols. The biennial exercise gives participants from the United States, Canada, and Mexico the opportunity to self-assess their emergency response and recovery plans through a simulated exercise that takes place across North America.(source)
But not everybody on board with NERC efforts. For example, David Stuckenberg from The Hill writes in his article “North Korea won the battle against America’s EMP Commission”:
The security-centric efforts of the EMP Commission have not been unopposed. In fact, the energy industry along with the North American Energy Reliability Commission (NERC) and Federal Energy Reliability Commission (FERC), have sought to maintain a status quo which according to the EMP Commission’s in-depth analysis leaves 90 percent of American’s at risk.
By acting as a buffer to industry rather than serving wider public interests, the NERC and FERC have well protected the electric industry while leaving America’s citizens in danger. It’s that simple. (source)
Will two-day simulation exercises every two years really keep the United States safe from the fallout of EMP? Isn’t this more like, if you don’t mind the analogy, practicing reactive medicine rather than preventative medicine? After all, in the end, preventative medicine is far less expensive and there is less likelihood that the patient will die.
One of the primary mandates for a federal government is to provide for the common defense of “we the people.” I was under the impression this is one of the reasons we pay taxes, but perhaps I am mistaken. Switzerland serves as a poster child for civil defense and the common good for its people, providing underground bunkers stocked with supplies and encourages all citizens at a certain age to own and learn to use a gun. The United States, on the other hand, is more interested in restricting gun rights, if not banning guns outright, and I am certain at the first sign of nuclear confrontation, the elites will race like the vermin they are to their deep underground military bases (DUMBs), leaving we the people to fend for ourselves on the surface.
With international tensions rising almost on a daily basis, and with wars and rumors of war abounding everywhere, the United States needs to concentrate its efforts on civil defense for the people. At the top of the list of things to do would include hardening of the grid. The cost is really quite small when compared to the cost to peoples lives should such an unfortunate event occur. Civilizations come and go, empires rise and fall, and only one significant event is needed as a catalyst for this to occur. Hopefully, with the correct leadership, the United States will stop acting like an empire and instead look inward to the needs and protection of its citizenry.