EMP's are back in the news again as we learn that NORAD is looking to take its operations center under ground to protect against an EMP attack. The world is becoming a more dangerous place with the growth of nuclear proliferation. One very specific threat from this nuclear proliferation is the likelihood of an EMP attack. EMP's are one of those things our nation has ignored for decades, even as the threat has become more apparent.
EMP stands for electro-magnetic pulse, and a nuclear EMP attack is far more dangerous to us than any single nuclear weapon aimed at a city. Our nation could be effectively destroyed by a single EMP - a very sobering thought in an era of nuclear proliferation and with the penultimate rogue state, Iran, on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapon compliments of Obama. Unless electrical systems and computer circuits are hardened to protect against an EMP discharge, they would be fried in the event of an EMP attack. A successful EMP attack on the U.S. would immediately throw us back to the stone age, with repairs to systems taking in excess of a year, assuming we would still have the economic wherewithal to make such repairs:
"What it could do, these various threats, is black out the U.S. electric grid for a protracted period of months or years," warned Peter Pry, executive director of the EMP Task Force, a bipartisan congressional commission. "Nine out of ten Americans could die from starvation, disease and societal collapse, if the blackout lasted a year."
Every nuclear weapon that explodes generates an electro-magnetic pulse that reaches out to line of site -- i.e., as far as one could see where they standing at the exact point in space where the detonation occurs. Since virtually all attacks on geographical points are accomplished with low altitude detonation, the EMP portion of a conventional nuclear attack is not of great concern.
That changes when a nuclear weapon is used to specifically to conduct an EMP attack. The nuclear weapon is fired high into the stratosphere to maximize line of site coverage. Theoretically, it would be possible for a single high altitude nuclear explosion near the midpoint of the U.S. to cover all of the lower 48 states. Thus, Iran, with but a single nuclear weapon on an ICBM, becomes a mortal threat to our nation in consideration of what would be the penultimate act of terrorism.
The mechanics of the three phases of a nuclear generated EMP are explained here. At any rate, the costs to harden our electrical grid and electronics against an EMP threat would be in the tens of billions of dollars. Why we still, despite knowing of this threat for decades, have done nothing to protect against it is inexplicable and scandalous.