Concern growing over potential North Korean EMP attack

As tensions mount between the U.S. and North Korea, some experts are warning that the Kim regime may already have the capability to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, despite lacking an ICBM that could hit us directly.

Instead, some experts are sounding the alarm about North Korea's growing capability to unleash an electromagnetic pulse by exploding a nuke in low-Earth orbit, devastating our electrical grid and just about any system that uses computer chips.

And the state of Hawaii may be in the firing line.

Fox News:

The concern regarding the threat of an EMP attack on Hawaii's electrical grid and communications systems "is real and must be taken seriously," U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told Fox News.

"Almost every aspect of our lives is reliant on electricity, much more so than in 1962 — everything from banking to health care to communications to automobiles — so you can imagine the devastating impact such an attack could have," Gabbard said.

In Hawaii, there is an added layer of risk even if the attack were not directed at Hawaii, Gabbard said.

"If an attack occurred on the mainland and the electric grid were shut down on the West Coast, it would create a crisis in Hawaii through the total disruption of our food and energy supply chain," Gabbard said.

Hawaii is possibly a more desirable target than other states, warned Dean Cheng, senior research fellow with the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, in part because the headquarters for the United States Pacific Command at Camp Smith is on Oahu, and the state has 11 military bases, including Pearl Harbor.

Dave Benham, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, said his agency is ready to counter any threat to U.S. interests in an area of responsibility that spans half the globe.

"The No. 1 threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," Benham said.

While some experts claim an EMP attack isn't a likely concern, National Geographic notes a Congressional commission of scientific and military experts warned in 2004 that an EMP attack could cause a massive blackout and damage financial and power networks.

"Depending on the specific characteristics of the attacks, unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result," the 2004 commission warned in a statement. "In that event, a regional or national recovery would be long and difficult and would seriously degrade the safety and overall viability of our Nation."

A later report in 2008 by the Congressional Research Service confirmed that an EMP attack could cause substantial damage.

Hawaii has already suffered from the effects of an EMP.  Back in 1962, before the atmospheric test ban treaty, the U.S. detonated a huge hydrogen bomb more than 240 miles above the Earth's surface.  Despite the blast being 800 miles from Hawaii, the island's electricity was disrupted for hours.

But some experts minimize the EMP threat from North Korea.  First and foremost, the North Koreans have yet to develop the technology to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so that it fits on a missile.  This is vital, because the EMP is a line of sight weapon, unable to affect systems beyond the horizon.  So the EMP effects of a ground-level blast would highly localized.

There is also a question of whether the North could develop weapons powerful enough to affect ground systems from space.  The North's nuclear tests to date haven't even come close to the massive 1.4-megaton blast in 1962.  Their most recent test from last September had a yield of only 10 kilotons – about 150 times less powerful than the 1962 blast.  Since the effects of an EMP weapon dissipate rapidly, it is doubtful that a North Korean nuke detonated in space could cause widespread damage.

Also, most key systems in the U.S. have been hardened in recent decades to withstand all but the most devastating EMP pulse.

All of that should not breed complacency.  Not only is North Korea developing an EMP capability, but its leader is just crazy enough to use it.  Preventing further development of North Korea's nuclear capability is of paramount importance if we wish to avoid a situation where the North can threaten our very way of life. 

As tensions mount between the U.S. and North Korea, some experts are warning that the Kim regime may already have the capability to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, despite lacking an ICBM that could hit us directly.

Instead, some experts are sounding the alarm about North Korea's growing capability to unleash an electromagnetic pulse by exploding a nuke in low-Earth orbit, devastating our electrical grid and just about any system that uses computer chips.

And the state of Hawaii may be in the firing line.

Fox News:

The concern regarding the threat of an EMP attack on Hawaii's electrical grid and communications systems "is real and must be taken seriously," U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told Fox News.

"Almost every aspect of our lives is reliant on electricity, much more so than in 1962 — everything from banking to health care to communications to automobiles — so you can imagine the devastating impact such an attack could have," Gabbard said.

In Hawaii, there is an added layer of risk even if the attack were not directed at Hawaii, Gabbard said.

"If an attack occurred on the mainland and the electric grid were shut down on the West Coast, it would create a crisis in Hawaii through the total disruption of our food and energy supply chain," Gabbard said.

Hawaii is possibly a more desirable target than other states, warned Dean Cheng, senior research fellow with the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, in part because the headquarters for the United States Pacific Command at Camp Smith is on Oahu, and the state has 11 military bases, including Pearl Harbor.

Dave Benham, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command, said his agency is ready to counter any threat to U.S. interests in an area of responsibility that spans half the globe.

"The No. 1 threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," Benham said.

While some experts claim an EMP attack isn't a likely concern, National Geographic notes a Congressional commission of scientific and military experts warned in 2004 that an EMP attack could cause a massive blackout and damage financial and power networks.

"Depending on the specific characteristics of the attacks, unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result," the 2004 commission warned in a statement. "In that event, a regional or national recovery would be long and difficult and would seriously degrade the safety and overall viability of our Nation."

A later report in 2008 by the Congressional Research Service confirmed that an EMP attack could cause substantial damage.

Hawaii has already suffered from the effects of an EMP.  Back in 1962, before the atmospheric test ban treaty, the U.S. detonated a huge hydrogen bomb more than 240 miles above the Earth's surface.  Despite the blast being 800 miles from Hawaii, the island's electricity was disrupted for hours.

But some experts minimize the EMP threat from North Korea.  First and foremost, the North Koreans have yet to develop the technology to miniaturize a nuclear weapon so that it fits on a missile.  This is vital, because the EMP is a line of sight weapon, unable to affect systems beyond the horizon.  So the EMP effects of a ground-level blast would highly localized.

There is also a question of whether the North could develop weapons powerful enough to affect ground systems from space.  The North's nuclear tests to date haven't even come close to the massive 1.4-megaton blast in 1962.  Their most recent test from last September had a yield of only 10 kilotons – about 150 times less powerful than the 1962 blast.  Since the effects of an EMP weapon dissipate rapidly, it is doubtful that a North Korean nuke detonated in space could cause widespread damage.

Also, most key systems in the U.S. have been hardened in recent decades to withstand all but the most devastating EMP pulse.

All of that should not breed complacency.  Not only is North Korea developing an EMP capability, but its leader is just crazy enough to use it.  Preventing further development of North Korea's nuclear capability is of paramount importance if we wish to avoid a situation where the North can threaten our very way of life. 

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