Newt Gingrich has warned the world of his worst nightmare: an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
A high-powered EMP is a surge of electromagnetic energy created by a nuclear bomb detonated high in the atmosphere. Such an explosion could theoretically completely disrupt the U.S. power grid, especially along the northeastern seaboard.
These weapons could cause huge power outages and bring civilizations to their knees.
“This could be the kind of catastrophe that ends civilisation — and that’s not an exaggeration,” Gingrich said, addressing members of the Electromagnetic Pulse Caucus last week, Politico reported.
How an EMP works
Widespread power outages from EMPs are caused by a burst of electromagnetism — the waves of electricity and magnetism created by a disturbance in the electromagnetic field.
This widespread disturbance comes from intense magnetic fields in the atmosphere, which induce currents in the ground, mucking with the power lines and electrical equipment.
A EMP from a super-sized solar storm could also disrupt communications, something that NASA solar physicists believe is inevitable within the century.
These pulses can also be created by man, using atomic bombs.
Radiated energy from a nuclear bomb that’s detonated 25 miles or higher above the Earth releases an electromagnetic wave in front of it. This pulse messes with the Earth’s magnetic field and could cause blackouts covering multiple states.
Basically, any country with the ability to deploy nuclear weapons has the ability to theoretically launch an EMP strike. It is a matter of detonating them at the right height above the surface of the Earth with enough power.
Why is it so dangerous?
That wave of electromagnetic pulse, if strong enough, can fry everything from computer circuits, to car motors, to high voltage transformers — pretty much anything directly connected to a current of electricity.
The scope of a such a bomb is simply astounding, one 1998 report out of the Federation of American Scientists said:
The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air. The first recorded EMP incident accompanied a high-altitude nuclear test over the South Pacific and resulted in power system failures as far away as Hawaii. A large device detonated at 400 – 500 km over Kansas would affect all of CONUS. The signal from such an event extends to the visual horizon as seen from the burst point.
With transformers and power lines effectively fried, the electricity would be down for a long, long, long time.
Not everyone agrees that a nuke would cause such devastation. According to a 2010 USA Today article:
Stephen Younger, former head of the defence Threat Reduction Agency, last year argued against the catastrophic scenarios in his book, The Bomb, suggesting the effects of a pulse would be more random, temporary and limited.
How much damage would it cause?
If the lights went out on the eastern seaboard, Gingrich is right, it would be trillions of dollars in damage, millions would die (maybe not in days, but it would happen), and there’s a distinct possibility society would collapse.
Well, the U.S. would retaliate, with nukes even.
The same report from the defence Science Board recommends first upgrading nuclear deterrence systems to harden them against EMP.
Reason being that leaders and planners have determined the damage to be akin to a Weapon of Mass Destruction, and within the scope of equivalent retaliation.
The results of which would quickly turn into nuclear holocaust.
Why it’s not likely.
The prevailing theory among Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation is that a Russian-made medium range nuke in the hands of extremists out on a barge off the East Coast could do this sort of damage.
That’s if militants can get their hands on a Russian-made nuke, and if they can float it on a barge all the way to the East Coast without getting caught, and if they can then launch it without being detected and destroyed, and then if it slips through the, doubtless dozens, of missile intercepts launched at it.
In short, that’s a lot of ifs.
Bar also nuclear deterrence, the fact that cyber warfare can achieve a similar result at a much lower cost and exposure of the attacker, and that not even frenemies like Russia would likely sell, supply, or aid militants in the construction of such a weapon.
If one were to forget about all that, then yes, Gingrich is right, a nuclear EMP is a grave threat to America.
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