In wake of the recent political tension between the U.S. and North Korea, North Korea has threatened to destroy the U.S. power grid. It could do that by attacking the U.S. with an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). An EMP is generally a burst of strong electromagnetic waves. It can be man-made and originate from a magnetic field or a strong electric current. It was first tested during World War II and the Starfish Prime. If North Korea drops a hydrogen bomb at a very high altitude, strong EMP waves will destroy major key structures including the U.S. power grid.
This threat has several severe consequences. The EMP has a destructive power similar in magnitude to that of an atomic bomb. The higher the detonation altitude, the more destructive it is. An EMP attack acts over a wide area up to hundreds of miles. Consequences of an EMP can include long lasting power outages in houses and health care facilities and damage to properties, including cars and stores. Sensors, monitors and other electronics that restart power after an outage would also be wiped out. The radioactive waves in an EMP can also kill up to millions of people, depending on its size. The radiation would also severely increase cancer cases.
“The biggest danger would be shorting out of the power grid, especially on the East Coast. Imagine a situation where large sections of the U.S. had no power. Imagine New York or Washington, D.C. with no power for just a week. The implications would be hard to fathom. The casualty rates would be off the charts,” said Harry Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest.
Despite the possible threat, little efforts have been made to address the issue. The federal government did not implement any recommendations to prevent power outages the EMP would cause. They also claimed that securing the power grid is not one of their current priorities. On the other hand Richard Schoeberl, a terrorism analyst, believes that an EMP attack is a possible threat that requires immediate action.
“Most of our East Coast grid has a lot of older equipment that could be vulnerable. We should work quickly to make the necessary upgrades to ensure North Korea can’t catch us by surprise,” Kazianis added.
“We are highly vulnerable to such an attack. Considering that if North Koreans are able to pack enough destructive power into such a nuclear device they could fry countless electrical grids and equipment. If they use a big enough device, the damage could be beyond belief,” said Schoeberl.
Photo courtesy of matti.frisk / Flickr.