Monday, 22 June 2009

stratospheric nuke : electromagnetic disaster


The physical and social fabric of the United States is sustained by a system of systems;
a complex and dynamic network of interlocking and interdependent infrastructures
("critical national infrastructures") whose harmonious functioning enables the myriad
actions, transactions, and information flow that undergird the orderly conduct of civil
society in this country.

The vulnerability of these infrastructures to threats — deliberate,
accidental, and acts of nature — is the focus of greatly heightened concern in the current
era, a process accelerated by the events of 9/11 and recent hurricanes, including Katrina
and Rita.

This report presents the results of the Commission's assessment of the effects of a high
altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on our critical national infrastructures and
provides recommendations for their mitigation. The assessment is informed by analytic
and test activities executed under Commission sponsorship, which are discussed in this
volume. An earlier executive report, Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the
United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) — Volume 1: Executive Report (2004),
provided an overview of the subject.

The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a
small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.

The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source
of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute,
store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian
systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces
will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.

1 This
broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability
to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical
infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.
Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system,
its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP's particular damage mechanisms,
creates the possibility of long-term, catastrophic consequences.

The implicit invitation
to take advantage of this vulnerability, when coupled with increasing proliferation
of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, is a serious concern. A single EMP attack
may seriously degrade or shut down a large part of the electric power grid in the geographic
area of EMP exposure effectively instantaneously. There is also a possibility of
functional collapse of grids beyond the exposed area, as electrical effects propagate from
one region to another.

The time required for full recovery of service would depend on both the disruption and
damage to the electrical power infrastructure and to other national infrastructures. Larger
affected areas and stronger EMP field strengths will prolong the time to recover.

critical electrical power infrastructure components are no longer manufactured in the
United States, and their acquisition ordinarily requires up to a year of lead time in routine
circumstances. Damage to or loss of these components could leave significant parts of the
electrical infrastructure out of service for periods measured in months to a year or more.
There is a point in time at which the shortage or exhaustion of sustaining backup systems,
1 For example, a nuclear explosion at an altitude of 100 kilometers would expose 4 million square kilometers, about
1.5 million square miles, of Earth surface beneath the burst to a range of EMP field intensities.



including emergency power supplies, batteries, standby fuel supplies, communications,
and manpower resources that can be mobilized, coordinated, and dispatched, together
lead to a continuing degradation of critical infrastructures for a prolonged period of time.

Electrical power is necessary to support other critical infrastructures, including supply
and distribution of water, food, fuel, communications, transport, financial transactions,
emergency services, government services, and all other infrastructures supporting the
national economy and welfare.

Should significant parts of the electrical power infrastructure
be lost for any substantial period of time, the Commission believes that the consequences
are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of
the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities.

fact, the Commission is deeply concerned that such impacts are likely in the event of an
EMP attack unless practical steps are taken to provide protection for critical elements of
the electric system and for rapid restoration of electric power, particularly to essential

The recovery plans for the individual infrastructures currently in place essentially
assume, at worst, limited upsets to the other infrastructures that are important to
their operation. Such plans may be of little or no value in the wake of an EMP attack
because of its long-duration effects on all infrastructures that rely on electricity or

The ability to recover from this situation is an area of great concern. The use of automated
control systems has allowed many companies and agencies to operate effectively
with small work forces. Thus, while manual control of some systems may be possible, the
number of people knowledgeable enough to support manual operations is limited.

of physical damage is also constrained by a small work force. Many maintenance crews
are sized to perform routine and preventive maintenance of high-reliability equipment.

When repair or replacement is required that exceeds routine levels, arrangements are
typically in place to augment crews from outside the affected area. However, due to the
simultaneous, far-reaching effects from EMP, the anticipated augmenters likely will be
occupied in their own areas. Thus, repairs normally requiring weeks of effort may require
a much longer time than planned.

The consequences of an EMP event should be prepared for and protected against to the
extent it is reasonably possible. Cold War-style deterrence through mutual assured
destruction is not likely to be an effective threat against potential protagonists that are
either failing states or trans-national groups. Therefore, making preparations to manage
the effects of an EMP attack, including understanding what has happened, maintaining
situational awareness, having plans in place to recover, challenging and exercising those
plans, and reducing vulnerabilities, is critical to reducing the consequences, and thus
probability, of attack. The appropriate national-level approach should balance prevention,
protection, and recovery.

The Commission requested and received information from a number of Federal agencies
and National Laboratories. We received information from the North American Electric
Reliability Corporation, the President's National Security Telecommunications
Advisory Committee, the National Communications System (since absorbed by the
Department of Homeland Security), the Federal Reserve Board, and the Department of
Homeland Security.

Early in this review it became apparent that only limited EMP
vulnerability testing had been accomplished for modern electronic systems and

To partially remedy this deficit, the Commission sponsored illustrative
testing of current systems and infrastructure components. The Commission's view is that
the Federal Government does not today have sufficiently robust capabilities for reliably
assessing and managing EMP threats.
The United States faces a long-term challenge to maintain technical competence for
understanding and managing the effects of nuclear weapons, including EMP. The
Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration have developed
and implemented an extensive Nuclear Weapons Stockpile Stewardship Program over the
last decade. However, no comparable effort was initiated to understand the effects that
nuclear weapons produce on modern systems. The Commission reviewed current national
capabilities to understand and to manage the effects of EMP and concluded that the
Country is rapidly losing the technical competence in this area that it needs in the
Government, National Laboratories, and Industrial Community.
An EMP attack on the national civilian infrastructures is a serious problem, but one that
can be managed by coordinated and focused efforts between industry and government. It
is the view of the Commission that managing the adverse impacts of EMP is feasible in
terms of time and resources. A serious national commitment to address the threat of an
EMP attack can develop a national posture that would significantly reduce the payoff for
such an attack and allow the United States to recover in a timely manner if such an attack
were to occur.


Posted By: Nemesis <Send E-Mail>
Date: Saturday, 20-Jun-2009 20:56:43



What about if some decide to use nuke at a high altitude in order to destroy a threatening asteroid (see infra)? How convenient if you manage to detonate your device on top of the other half of the world that you don't control?

Kind regards,


UN is told that Earth needs an asteroid shield

Scientists call for £68m a year to detect danger, and more for spacecraft to defend against it

Robin McKie, science editor

The Observer, Sunday December 7 2008

A group of the world's leading scientists has urged the United Nations to establish an international network to search the skies for asteroids on a collision course with Earth. The spaceguard system would also be responsible for deploying spacecraft that could destroy or deflect incoming objects.

The group - which includes the Royal Society president Lord Rees and environmentalist Crispin Tickell - said that the UN needed to act as a matter of urgency. Although an asteroid collision with the planet is a relatively remote risk, the consequences of a strike would be devastating.

An asteroid that struck the Earth 65 million years ago wiped out the dinosaurs and 70 per cent of the species then living on the planet. The destruction of the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908 is known to have been caused by the impact of a large extraterrestrial object.

'The international community must begin work now on forging three impact prevention elements - warning, deflection technology and a decision-making process - into an effective defence against a future collision,' said the International Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation, which is chaired by former American astronaut Russell Schweickart. The panel made its presentation at the UN's building in Vienna.

The risk of a significantly sized asteroid - defined by the panel as being more than 45 metres in diameter - striking the Earth has been calculated at two or three such events every 1,000 years, a rare occurrence, though such a collision would dwarf all other natural disasters in recent history.

The panel added that developments in telescope design mean that, by 2020, it should be possible to pinpoint about 500,000 asteroids in orbit round the Sun and study their movements. Of these, several dozen will be revealed to pose threats to Earth, the panel added.

However, the group warned it would be impossible to predict exactly which of these 'at-risk' asteroids would actually strike until it was very close to our planet. By then, it would be too late to take action.

As a result, the panel said it would be necessary to launch missions to deflect or destroy asteroids that have only a one in 10, or even a one in 100, risk of hitting our planet. 'Over the next 10 to 15 years, the process of discovering asteroids will likely identify dozens of new objects threatening enough that they will require proactive decisions by the United Nations,' the report added. In addition, such missions will have to be launched well ahead of a predicted impact, so that slight deflections by spaceships can induce major changes in an asteroid's paths years later. The world will not be able to rely on Bruce Willis saving it from an asteroid at the last minute as he does in Armageddon, in other words. Considerable planning and forethought will be needed.

Funding such missions will therefore require far greater investment than is currently being made by international authorities. At present, about $4m (£2.7m) a year is spent by Nasa on asteroid detection, while the European Space Agency's planned mission to study the asteroid Apophis - which astronomers calculate has a 1 in 45,000 chance of striking the Earth this century - is likely to be a modest project costing only a few tens of millions of dollars.

By contrast, any effective protection system will require funding of about $100m (£68m) a year to provide a full survey of the skies, combined with investment in spacecraft that can reach an asteroid and then deflect it. This would be achieved either by crashing the spacecraft on to the asteroid or by triggering a nuclear explosion in space.

However, the cost of such missions should not be used as an excuse for failing to act, added the panel. 'We are no longer passive victims of the impact process,' it concluded. 'We cannot shirk the responsibility.'

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