The U.S. is pretty certain what one single thermonuclear device detonated in the high atmosphere some 400 kilometers above Kansas would do. All the doomsayers’ tales of predicted Armageddon that fizzled in the past would finally be realized, and then some.
An enemy attacking in that fashion would be unleashing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to burn out the electric grid of the nation below. It isn’t required to go into the details of the horrific consequences of depriving America of electricity for years. Such a nightmare is easily comprehended by all. What is inexplicable is that we are doing precisely nothing to defend ourselves against this potential threat.
The civil and military authorities have long known how easy it would be to bring a great nation to its knees instantaneously with an EMP attack because they themselves created one experimentally as far back as 1962. On July 9 of that year, the Starfish Prime test conducted over the mid-Pacific Ocean not only worked, it worked too well — surprising the researchers by the strength of the results; it unexpectedly knocked out 300 streetlights in Hawaii almost 1,000 miles away. (The Russians have conducted their own tests as well, with equally effective results.)
Exploding a nuclear device in the high atmosphere produces blisteringly powerful gamma rays to ionize the air, sending ferocious torrents of stripped high-energy electrons flooding to the ground below. As this cascade of electrical energy interacts with our grid, it does what one might expect: it burns it out.
China and Russia have both already taken steps to protect their nations from EMP attack, "hardening" their electrical grids. There is certainly no way to protect every solid state electronic device within a country — since a nation-sized Faraday cage can’t be constructed and fitted over us from sea to sea.
But, we can take the same measures the Chinese and Russians have undertaken. Those would be simple, sane and inexpensive ones — resistors. We could protect the core of our grid (some five thousand transformers) with neutral grounding resistors. They run about $40,000 each, so 5,000 of them would cost the federal government a grand total of $200 million — a one-time expenditure of a shockingly paltry $.60 per individual, ensuring the safety of every American citizen.
That the U.S. hasn’t already allocated $200 million to harden our grid is pretty shocking. That it has found the time, money and energy for the long list of tomfoolery that follows instead is jaw-dropping: studying why monkeys throw their excrement, determining if hungry people were more likely to stab a voodoo doll, teaching mountain lions to ride a treadmill.
Just this year so far $3.4 million was spent watching hamsters on steroids fighting each other in cage matches, $300,000 was flushed away in determining that girls tend to play with dolls more than boys, and fire set was to another $3 million so as to prove that the score to the movie "Jaws" instills a negative connotation to sharks.
Iran has endorsed a country-crippling EMP attack on the U.S., with their military investigating scenarios with bursts taking place over twenty different locales above our nation. North Korea said recently it would deliver "merciless punishment that will disallow the existence of the U.S."
Russia and China certainly are not guided by such addled leaders as those, but they are our rivals and competitors nonetheless. History has shown thousands of times, over millennia, that adversaries can and do become bitter enemies without either side wishing it, as events often have a way of taking on almost a life of their own.
So, we can’t say for certain what any potential opponent may do in future. Putting to the side though all our terrestrial challengers, there is one power above them all, a force that far outstrips any on Earth — the sun.
In the 1800’s solar storms regularly knocked out telegraphic communication in all parts of the globe. On Sept. 2, 1859, however, a coronal mass ejection sent by the sun slammed into Earth, shorting out telegraphs, igniting fires, and producing auroras as far south as Cuba and the Hawaiian Islands.
In 1921 a terrific storm burned out a great portion of the signaling and switching system of the New York Central Railway, set fires in control stations, and wrecked telephone, telegraph, and cable infrastructure all over Europe.
The 1940 Easter Sunday storm burned out generators, fused cables, silenced the U.S. Coast Guard’s radio stations, and hushed almost 200,000 miles of the Associated Press’ land lines.
The solar storm that Quebec experienced in 1989 caused the power grid to collapse entirely, casting 6 million people into the dark in the middle of winter.
We are unprepared, and that is foolish, inexplicable — and dangerous.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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