By J.M. Phelps
The probability of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) in our lifetime is much higher than most Americans would assume, according to Dr. Peter Pry, the Executive Director of the EMP Task Force.
Pry explains there are three sources of EMP: the sun, nuclear weapons, and non-nuclear weapons.
The natural concern, he says, is “the once-in-a-hundred-year geomagnetic superstorm like the Carrington event in 1859.” A superstorm of this magnitude “would be extremely powerful -- many times more powerful than the 1989 Hydro-Québec storm.”
The entire world would be affected, putting “electric grids and critical infrastructures” as well as “billions of lives” at risk. Pry believes it is “inevitable” that we will be struck by a Carrington-class geomagnetic storms, for “it’s not a question of if, but it’s a question of when will that happen.”
According to NASA, “the likelihood of such a catastrophic occurrence is 12% per decade, which means that possibly within our lives or no later than the lives of our grandchildren, we’re going to experience one of these things -- and we are unprotected.” Emphasizing the reality of the situation, he says, “our electric grid and life-sustaining critical infrastructures, right now, are completely unprotected.”
A second EMP threat stems from nuclear weapons “detonated at high altitude” of 30 to 400 kilometers. “A single nuclear weapon detonated at that altitude would create an electromagnetic field that would cover all of North America, most of Canada and a good part of Mexico.” This event would “destroy and damage electronics everywhere within that field.”
Non-nuclear EMP weapons, or radio frequency, weapons are a third cause for concern. “These,” according to Pry, “can be built using design information available on the Internet or you can even purchase [or modify] devices that are not intended to be used as weapons but can be used as weapons.”
“A non-nuclear EMP weapon has very limited range, typically a hundred yards or so, but the electric grid is so fragile that if you had a terrorist or criminal organization” with multiple radio frequency weapons, they “could cause a nationwide blackout” by attacking high-voltage (HV) transformers.
Non-nuclear radio frequency weapons are “being used” and may be considered “the ultimate weapon in this new way of warfare.” Combining the means of cyber warfare with a nuclear attack would be more than “enough to take down the grid and collapse a modern electronic civilization.” And these ideas are “irresistible” to our enemies, according to Pry.
It all makes sense because an “attack from many different vectors” would have a “net effect much greater than [a single] additive.” Pry says there would be “an exponential effect in terms of the effectiveness of the attack.”
As the chief of staff of the congressional EMP commission for 17 years, he notes a number of concerns. Aircraft would fall from the sky and automobiles would fail to start. Water would no longer be available in homes. “We only have enough food to feed 326 million people for 30 days and the food would begin to spoil within 72 hours.”
Should a nationwide blackout occur for as long as a year, the EMP commission reports “90% of our population could starve to death, die from disease and societal chaos, and collapse.”