EMP versus AGW - Is There a National Death Wish?

EMP or ElectroMagnetic Pulse is a disturbance that affects and sometimes destroys electrical and electronic devices. There are two kinds of EMP. A natural EMP is created by a storm on the sun that causes a cloud of particles to be ejected at high speed. If this cloud strikes the Earth it causes a natural EMP. There were important natural EMP’s in 1859, 1921, and 1989. The 1989 EMP crashed the electrical grid in Quebec and destroyed an important transformer at a nuclear plant in New Jersey. A natural EMP “heaves” the Earth’s magnetic field and induces destructive currents in long power lines. The 1989 event was far from the worst that can be expected.

A different type of EMP can be created by detonating a nuclear weapon at very high altitude, for example 200 miles. Such a detonation does not damage buildings or people. Only a flash would be visible. It does, however, create a very fast electromagnetic pulse that can damage computers, as well as many types of electronic equipment, over the entire continental United States. Like, a natural EMP, it also heaves the Earth’s magnetic field and can destroy critical large transformers, a part of the electrical grid that would take years to replace.

Because a single nuclear weapon can cause massive damage, EMP is the strategy of choice for minor powers such as Iran and North Korea, or even terrorists. Widespread destruction of the electrical grid and computers could leave the population of the entire country without electricity, water, heat, fuel, sewage, ATM’s, or credit cards. When emergency generators run out of fuel there would be no functioning hospitals and no manufacturing of drugs. Of course, the emergency generators might not function at all because control computers might fail. Our nuclear forces would still be ready, because they have long been hardened against EMP. If it is any consolation, guns would still work. They don’t use electricity.

At a minimum the electrical grid has to be protected so that it can quickly be bought back on line after an attack. The large transformers, without which the grid cannot function, can be protected at a very reasonable cost. But practically nothing has been done. If those transformers are destroyed -- melted -- it would take years to replace them and most of the transformer manufacturing capacity is in foreign countries. The oil refineries, the natural gas distribution system, coalmines, water systems and sewage systems must all be hardened against EMP.

Of course, the intelligence agencies and the military must be vigilant and do their best to head off an EMP attack by a hostile power. If a nuclear bomb is exploded in Manhattan and 2 million people are killed, there will still be 318 million people left in the U.S. with their productive capacity intact. But a successful EMP attack could put the entire country back in the 19th century for years.

An EMP attack requires both nuclear weapons and missiles to loft the weapon into near space. For that reason it is dangerous to allow our enemies to develop either missiles or nuclear weapons. It is extremely naive to suppose that our enemies lack ingenuity or to suppose that our intelligence agencies can effectively spy on them. It is also naive to suppose that we are well prepared for eventualities or that nothing will surprise us. The very fact that outside of the military we are totally undefended against an EMP attack is proof that our homeland security people are lethargic and not in the least bit alert to danger. That much of EMP technology is classified does not hide information from our enemies as much as it hides information from the Congress and the people, encouraging complacency.

The notion that nuclear weapons can only be acquired by establishing a vast industrial infrastructure to produce enriched uranium or plutonium is naive. The weapons can also be acquired from someone who has them or has access to them. The same considerations apply to missiles.

Much is uncertain about an EMP attack. It might not be as bad as the worst case. It might turn out that our infrastructure is fairly resistant. We don’t know a lot because not enough testing has been done. We do know that relatively minor efforts at hardening could make a huge difference in national survival. Yet nothing is being done.

For some reason best explained by psychiatrists, we are spending vast sums, potentially trillions, to reduce CO2 emissions in order to protect ourselves from Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Besides the fact that AGW is supported by the worst sort of junk science, even if you believe the junk science, reducing U.S. CO2 emissions will have practically no effect because CO2 emissions and growth in CO2 emissions is concentrated in Asia. To compound the craziness, vast sums are being spent on windmills and solar electricity, rather than nuclear power. Solar electricity suffers from not working at night and wind power has the problem that the wind isn’t always blowing. Nuclear power is the one type of CO2-free power that is scalable, reliable and technically mature. It is also resistant to EMP.

What is the threat poised by the imaginary global warming? According to the promoters, in 100 years it will be slightly warmer. Chicago will become as warm as St. Louis. Reality is that the Earth hasn’t warmed in 18 years and some experts think we may be on the verge of a cooling cycle. Predictions of AGW are based on computer models. The Earth is not following the computer models and vice versa.

This should scare everyone: “The Department of Energy has been charged with orchestrating the wholesale modernization of our nation’s electrical grid.”

While pursuing the supposed threat of AGW, the government is taking measures that will make the electrical grid less resistant to an EMP attack. An example is forcing the closure of coal plants in favor of natural gas plants. If the natural gas distribution system fails, so do the generating plants dependent on the gas. Coal plants; on the other hand typically have piles of coal on their premises. The government promotes a so-called smart grid. The idea is to use computers and communications to centrally control the electrical grid, an approach that is highly susceptible to EMP.

Norman Rogers writes about global warming and energy, among other topics. He maintains a website here and here.

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