An Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack?
I'm skeptical.

The subject at hand is Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) as a military weapon; that is, an electromagnetic pulse generated by the detonation of an atomic bomb at an altitude of 15 to 250 miles over the center of the United States.

Parts and pieces for this page have been floating around on this website for years, and I've finally made an attempt to organize it for presentation as a topic of its own.  At the same time, I'm doing a little research to back up my assumptions, which is what the internet is for.

What I have found is that an atomic weapon was set off at an altitude of 250 miles for a project called Starfish Prime in the summer of 1962.  At the moment of the explosion, strings of street lights blew their fuses in Hawaii, and (AM) radio reception was poor-to-none for about 15 minutes, but apparently that was the bulk of the immediate damage.  The bomb used in Starfish Prime was a 1.4-megaton fusion device, which is a weapon that only a handful of countries have ever built.  As far as I know, only the U.S. and three or four other countries have ever tested a weapon of that caliber, and those countries do not include North Korea or Iran.

Based on decades of observing the news media and the constant expansion of the federal budget (based largely on crises that don't exist), my opinion is that EMP isn't nearly the doomsday threat that the news media says it is.

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), if it is pointed in our direction, would be far worse than EMP, and would be impossible to predict, deflect, or prevent.  A CME would be far more likely to knock out electric power systems on a grand scale; but even then, we wouldn't be killed immediately, just set back to about 1875, and some of us would be well prepared to deal with the complete loss of electricity.  And gasoline, and food, and clean water.

Grain of salt:  I have no formal credentials in the areas of physics, chemistry, or electrical engineering.  But I do have healthy skepticism, common sense, and decades of experience with the news media.  My assertions below may be entirely wrong, or one hundred percent correct.  Take them for what they're worth.

Here is the outline:

I. An EMP attack is unlikely
   A. Only a few other countries have atomic weapons
      1. Those who do would probably prefer to use the explosive force of the weapon instead of its electromagnetic impact.
   B. Few other countries have rockets or balloons that could deliver such a weapon to the middle of North America.
   C. Few other countries are so hostile to the U.S. that they would risk retaliation.
   D. Atomic weapons are too expensive to be used repeatedly, so the first attack is gonna have to work really well.
      1. If it is a surprise attack, they would have to be absolutely sure that the EMP effect outweighs the explosive effect.
   E. The people who seem to be the most agitated about EMP threats are also afraid of global warming and dozens of other things.
   F. The EMP activists are in a big hurry to spend the taxpayers' money without first proving that a threat exists.
   G. It could be that my optimism is unfounded, because of facts and experiments that are not in the public domain (military secrets).
II. An EMP attack is unlikely to succeed
   A. Nobody has ever tried it, as far as I know.
      1. But everyone (i.e., politicians and columnists) seems absolutely sure it will work the first time.
      2. If anybody has tried EMP as a weapon, it went unnoticed!
      3. During the atomic bomb tests of the 1950s, did anybody's telephones or radios quit working?
   B. Lightning protection is EMP protection.
      1. Power lines get hit by lightning often, and the resulting outages are almost always small and isolated.
      2. Lightning can strike the top of a power pole and knock splinters off it without interrupting the utility power.
      3. Computers that operate on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are well protected from surges on the power line.
   C. Landline telephones are mostly connected by optical fiber, which is non-conductive.
   D. Cellular telephones have a broad range of exposure to an EMP threat at any moment, depending on their location.
      1. Cell phones that are underground or in the interior of an office building are fairly safe.
      2. Cell phones that outdoors and exposed to the sky are not protected.
   E. Your personal computer is in a shielded box
      1. which prevents it from radiating signals that might interfere with other services, and
      2. this shielding keeps unwanted signals OUT just as well as it keeps them IN.
      3. Its only connection to an antenna is for wi-fi or bluetooth.
   F. Every component of the power grid is designed to pass 60-Hertz power, not sub-microsecond pulses.
      1. Electric power is delivered through transformers (and fuses).   Power transformers have limited high-frequency (pulse) response.
   G. All the big data centers and phone companies are hardened already.
   H. Communications satellites are probably quite vulnerable, but
      1. as noted above, the countries with one or two atomic weapons are unlikely to use them for EMP instead of destroying cities.
   J. The power grid is fairly rugged (for the purposes of this topic)
      1. The power grid is often described as near collapse, but that's because it accepts power from multiple intermittent sources like windmills and solar panels
      2. The only devices affected by EMP would be those that are most sensitive and connected to antennas, i.e., TV's and cell phones.
   K. Most of the energy from an atomic weapon detonated in space would radiate away from the earth; thus,
      1. only a fraction of the energy released would affect us, and
      2. any electromagnetic energy absorbed by lakes and pastures and mountain ranges would have no consequences.
III. If an EMP attack happens
   A. It is unlikely to be completely unexpected and unannounced
      1. It takes time for intercontinental missiles to arrive, and the U.S. is well separated from other hostile countries.
         a. Assuming we aren't attacked by Mexico or Canada.
      2. Even a few minutes advanced notice would allow interconnected systems to be isolated, so they don't bring each other down.
   B. Even if such an attack succeeds
      1. The results could vary widely:
         a. Best case:  Nobody notices, and some hostile country wasted a nuke, or it wasn't big enough.
         b. Bad case:
            i. Cell phones and TV sets are damaged, but the utility power stays on.
         c. Very bad case:
            i. Some computer networks and equipment fail, too.  This is unlikely, in my opinion.
            ii. Maybe some other electronic systems fail unexpectedly, like your new car's computer or electronic ignition.
            iii. What's likely to keep working:
               A. Vacuum tube radios.  But you don't have one.
               B. A portable generator.  Everybody talks about getting one, but hardly anybody does.
            iv. The government will almost certainly use an event like this to justify all kinds of tyranny.
               A. They learned this from the Covid years.
               B. Call me a paranoid nut case, but it wouldn't surprise me if our own government staged an EMP attack, merely to justify tyranny.
         d. Worst case:  Utility power goes out for a while.
            i. This is extremely unlikely, in my opinion.
               A. The power distribution system is designed to pass 60 Hertz, not sub-microsecond pulses.
               B. Utility power is protected against lightning (and surges) with fuses and circuit breakers.
               C. The distributed resistance and reactance in the wires themselves would quench transient spikes.
            ii. This is why you shouldn't make fun of "preppers."
            iii. Your biggest hazard at that point is probably looters, so perpare accordingly.
      2. You'll be surprised at the number of things you own with warranties that are voided by acts of war.
      3. Mass media is unlikely to be of any help
         a. TV news readers don't understand technical topics -- and many of them boast about their ignorance!
         b. TV news readers think you understand less than they do, which is why they expain everything in one-syllable words
         c. TV news readers are very reluctant to make any assertions of facts without attributing them to some government official.
            i. Government officials and academic "experts" have the final word on any alleged facts.
            ii. This is because of lawyers:  Nobody can afford to be wrong, so they err on the side of caution.
         d. When was the last time your local TV news team told you anything of substance that you didn't already know, or that wasn't self-evident?
         e. If the impact is severe, mass communication might be scarce for a while.
         f. Be wary of everything you hear on social media, if that's your only source of news.
         g. If you suddenly can't pick up any TV stations,
            i. TV stations have generators and backup systems, at least in big cities.
            ii. If you were getting 55 channels yesterday, but now you see none, your TV is broken.
      4. If half of the TV sets in town stop working
         a. You're back in 1947.  Would that be so bad?
            i. You might have to read a book or take a walk.
            ii. Don't you have a portable radio?
            iii. Does your car radio still work?
            iv. Admit it -- you only leave the TV on because it makes background noise.
         b. Perhaps the era of TV repairmen would return, because all the TV sets would have the same problem.
         c. TV sets are cheap right now, but they won't be if there's a crowd of people wanting to buy a new one.
         d. If you're really worried about EMP, keep your least-used TV disconnected (from power and antenna), so at least that one will work.
      5. If half of the cell phones in town stop working
         a. Most of the calls you make are unnecessary anyway.
         b. About 99 percent of the calls your teenagers make are unnecessary.
         c. If the Indian telemarketers can't contact you, aren't you better off?
         d. Right now, every ten-year-old in town has a cell phone.   This would be your opportunity to re-evaluate that need.
      6. Recovery would be fairly quick
         a. Nothing has to be re-invented, just repaired or replaced.
         b. All the cell phone towers would still be in place, and all the radio frequencies would still be the same.
         c. Cell phone repair and replacement would likely be prioritized, with spoiled 10-year-old girls given the lowest priority.
    C. If EMP is proven to be an effective weapon (the first time it is used)
      1. The U.S. would be in the best position to use it on everybody else
      2. The most likely time for the second EMP attack would be as soon as repairs (necessitated by the first one) are completed
      3. Every country in the world would soon adapt to EMP and render it useless
      4. Everybody will be more self-reliant for the next 50 years or so.


The notion that a single nuclear weapon could produce an electromagnetic pulse that would knock out all the electric power in North America is dubious at best.
  1.   Those who are the most agitated about this threat are absolutely sure that such an attack would succeed, even though it's never been attempted.
  2.   The EMP Weapon Threat is very much like the Global Warming hoax or the over-population scare:  The whole thing is based on computer simulations, fearmongering, and pessimistic predictions.  The entire purpose appears to be the acquisition of taxpayer money to solve a problem we don't have.
  3.   There are only a few countries with the ability to launch an EMP weapon and detonate it at the right altitude over the right place, and it is unlikely that any of those countries want to gamble that EMP will work the first time.  It is much more likely that they would use their weapons to destroy buildings or specific cities.
  4.   Any time you hear alarmists say, "We've got to do something - quick!" you should beware.  All that urgency is a license to spend money without much supervision, e.g., the USA Patriot Act, Obamacare, Ukraine, Global Warming, Green New Deal, sending men back to the Moon, etc.
  5.   The United States and the USSR used to detonate nuclear weapons above ground, back in the 1950s, and as far as I am aware, those explosions — with a few minor exceptions — didn't knock out nearby electrical or communications systems.
  6.   I don't think the electric power grid is as fragile as many people make it out to be.  The same equipment that protects power equipment from lightning would be highly effective against EMP.  The power system is connected through transformers that are designed to pass 60-Hertz energy, not sub-microsecond pulses.  The distributed resistance and reactance in power lines would make them rather poor UHF antennas.  Your neighborhood power grid is replete with fuses and breakers.
  7.   There are more generators -- large and small -- installed in the U.S. than anyone realizes, and power would be systematically restored within a matter of days.  I can't imagine that a single pulse from 1,000 miles away would burn up a 10,000-amp generator at the power station.  There just isn't that much energy released by an atomic bomb, even for a microsecond.
  8.   Your personal computer is inside a metal case, to keep radio interference inside the box.  Shielding works in both directions.  The major data centers in the U.S. have been hardened already, with EMP in mind.
  9.   Even IF every last cell phone tower were to be blown out by EMP, they could all be quickly rebuilt, because the technology has already been debugged, spare parts are surely on hand, and the towers would still be in place.

Background information:

Why the U.S. once set off a nuclear bomb in space.  The results from the 1962 Starfish Prime test serve as a warning of what might happen if Earth's magnetic field gets blasted again with high doses of radiation.

Did High-Altitude EMP Cause the Hawaiian Street Light Incident?  [pdf]

Typical news articles on this subject:

Texas' Winter Electrical Grid Failures Highlight Nation's Vulnerability to EMP Attacks.  During the blackout last month, several million customers were without power in Texas.  Indeed, nearly half of the state's electricity production was interrupted at one time as a result of the record cold temperatures.  In the media, scenes flickered across our (well-powered) screens of the significant challenges facing Texans from the blackout and the weather, including freshwater shortages and finding warmth in the cold as the blackouts loomed.  But severe storms are not the only threat to America's electrical grid.  What happened in Texas could be repeated on a national scale, affecting millions more Americans — but this time not at the hands of Mother Nature.  Instead, it would be at the hands of a foreign enemy in the form of an electromagnetic pulse — or EMP.  An EMP is a large burst of energy that can cause significant damage to electronics.  Human-generated EMPs, which differ from naturally occurring geomagnetic disturbances (e.g., space weather), are created by artificial sources, which can include a possible premeditated explosion of a nuclear warhead (or warheads) high above the United States by a rogue state or other international competitor.

New EMP warning:  US will 'cease to exist,' 90 percent of population will die.  At a time when the military is starting to take the potential for an attack on the national electric grid more seriously, a newly declassified report is warning of an electronic world war launched by Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China that could wipe out North America, Europe, and Israel.  With ease and using a primitive nuclear weapon, a "New Axis" of those aggressive nations could "black out" the Western world, dismantle all electricity and electronics, end water and food supply, and lead to millions of deaths in America.  "Nine of 10 Americans are dead from starvation, disease, and societal collapse.  The United States of America ceases to exist," warned the report declassified by recently decommissioned U.S. Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.

Long Overdue Action on EMP.  Much of what we read in the news is trivial.  This isn't.  I have been hearing about the threat posed by electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) for quite a few years.  A high altitude EMP can occur if a nuclear device is detonated over the Earth's surface.  It potentially could wipe out all electrical systems, effectively disabling the United States.  Some estimate that an EMP attack could kill 90 percent of Americans.  A number of countries, including Russia, China and North Korea, are believed to have the ability to detonate weapons creating one or more EMPs over the U.S.

Congress [was] warned that NoKo EMP attack could kill 90% of Americans.  The House Homeland Security Committee heard expert testimony yesterday on the effects of a high-altitude nuclear detonation that could knock out the U.S. electrical grid for up to a year, resulting in the deaths of 90% of Americans.  A nuclear attack from space would generate an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that would "inflict devastating damage" on the U.S.

The Government's Do-Nothing Approach to EMP Threats.  EMPs — pulses of electromagnetic energy created by natural or manmade causes, such as a terrorist attack — have the potential to critically damage our electrical grid and catastrophically disrupt communications, transportation, emergency services, and food and water supplies, virtually destroying the world we live in today.  Even worse, lives are at stake.  According to Dr.  Peter Pry, the executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, EMPs pose "existential threats that could kill 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse."

Survival in the Age of EMP.  An EMP attack is within reach for Iran, North Korea, and perhaps a terrorist organization.  These entities are not necessarily rational and may not be deterred by threats of retaliation, assuming we can even identify the source of the attack.  There are lots of ways to harden our infrastructure against EMP at reasonable cost, but the government isn't doing anything, and the Obama administration is studiously ignoring the matter, perhaps because it might make the administration's Iran policy look dangerous or interfere with its clean energy boondoggles.

What is the deal with those FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters?  Back last February, it was reported that FEMA/Department of Homeland Security was mysteriously constructing prepackaged AM transmitter buildings at various PEP (Primary Entry Point) transmitter sites across the country as something call "Primary Entry Point Expansion."  These buildings contain a 5 KW Nautel AM transmitter, EAS gear, satellite equipment (the exact equipment list is undisclosed) and a backup generator all in a shielded (Faraday Cage), prefabricated building placed inside of a fenced in compound at the station's transmitter site.  The buildings are being put in place, but not connected to anything in the outside world.

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Updated March 23, 2023.

©2023 by Andrew K. Dart