What Everyone Deserves to Know About Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)

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What Everyone Deserves to Know About Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)
Fact sheet for the first United Nations Workshop on Nuclear EMP, at the NPT PrepCom, April 29, 2019
Prepared by John Lewallen www.avoidingnuclearwar.com; babs@mcn.org; (707)684-8024
The New Face of Nuclear War: The fact that today a few nuclear bombs detonated in space could wipe out the global nervous system of electronic civilization is a fundamental reality of modern life that everyone deserves to understand. Like a virus that threatens the whole human race, dealing with nuclear EMP requires all of us to work for international peace to avoid nuclear war.
Today’s workshop at the United Nations Non-Proliferation Treaty PrepCom brings together world citizens who lead the world away from the nuclear brink and toward a world free of the danger of nuclear war. May we share love and delight in this work!
The Basic Facts About Nuclear EMP are Easy for Anyone to Understand: Any nuclear bomb of any size detonated in space would produce gamma rays and a fireball that generate radiation which instantly radiates spherically from the blast, damaging or destroying semiconductors (computer chips) in line of sight of the blast, on Earth, in the atmosphere, and in space satellites.
Gamma rays passing through the atmosphere are converted by the “Compton effect” into a very brief, powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP). The EMP comes in three basic wavelengths—E-1, E-2, and E-3. The E-1, the shortest and briefest wavelength, is unlike any natural radiation, and is uniquely damaging to semiconductors (computer chips). The E-2 and E-3 are similar to lightning. Only the E-3 lingers longer than a fraction of a second; it is very damaging to the transformers in long-line power grids.
A powerful EMP is generated only if the nuclear bomb is detonated above the atmosphere, about 40 kilometers in altitude on up. The area of EMP damage in the atmosphere is determined by the altitude of the blast. A detonation above 300 kilometers can damage or destroy semiconductors over a continent-wide area.
The atmospheric EMP is everywhere all at once, and gone within seconds. It is harmless to humans. It is especially damaging to long-line power grids, and capable of shutting down electric grids continent-wide, while also damaging or destroying computer chips in nuclear power plant control systems, aircraft, autos, communication devices—in fact, the whole electronic nervous system of modern civilization.
“Space EMP” also is generated primarily by gamma rays radiating in all directions from the blast, along with x rays, instantly damaging or destroying electronics in all unprotected satellites in line of sight, even at great distances. In addition, the nuclear explosion in space “pumps” the Van Allen belts, belts of natural radiation looping above the Earth, with electrons. These electrons persist for months or years, damaging or destroying satellites in low-Earth orbit passing through the Van Allen belts. A single nuclear blast above the atmosphere anywhere over Earth would do incalculable damage to satellites on which worldwide civilization relies.
Electronics can be protected, “hardened,” by carefully enclosing them in metallic shields, but few military and almost no civilian electronics have been hardened to withstand nuclear EMP. Also, some nations claim to have developed “super-EMP” bombs designed to emit gamma rays powerful enough to defeat hardening measures.
The Strange History of Nuclear EMP: Nuclear EMP was “discovered” in the early 1960s by U.S. and Soviet high-altitude H-bomb tests which damaged electronics over a wide area, on land and in space, leading to a 1963 treaty banning above-ground nuclear bomb tests which endures to this day. In 1967, the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom originated the Outer Space Treaty, banning nuclear weapons in space.
An H-bomb in space today would be a million times more damaging to global electronics than it was in 1962, because there are now some 1,700 satellites vulnerable to EMP, and global electronics become ever more vulnerable to EMP as semiconductors become smaller and we become more dependent on computer chips for everything.
For about 35 years nuclear EMP was a secret kept by the nuclear weapons community, as the US and Soviet Union tried to harden military systems against it and develop “super-EMP bombs” with more gamma rays. Today, there is still a lot of secrecy inhibiting our ability to understand and deal with nuclear EMP. Very few “experts” on nuclear weapons ever mention the apocalyptic reality that nuclear EMP bombs and delivery systems, from missiles to satellites and even weather balloons, could be used by any of several nations to wipe out global electronic civilization.
The strategic reality that, in my opinion, there is no possible military defense against nuclear EMP, has fostered an atmosphere of secrecy, denial, disbelief, ignorance, and mind-numbing terror around the topic. A complete strategic discussion involving people from all walks of life is urgently needed. Are all the trillion-dollar-plus nuclear weapons in the U.S. 2017 “Nuclear Posture Review,” and the missile defense and space weapons systems in the 2018 U.S. “Missile Defense Review,” now dangerously obsolete, creating an atmosphere of nuclear attack threat which might provoke a devastating nuclear EMP attack by some threatened nation?
In 2001 the US Congress established an EMP Commission which did studies and reports on US vulnerability to EMP and how to protect electronics from it. EMP Commission pleas for basic EMP protection mostly fell on deaf ears until Sept.3, 2017, when North Korea detonated an H-bomb they said could now be used to make a high-altitude EMP attack. North Korea is at war with the US now, and President Trump was threatening imminent attack on their nation at the time.
North Korea followed by threatening to make the first high-altitude H-bomb test since 1962. Shortly later, President Trump began peace talks with North Korea, ending both US attack threats and North Korean missile and bomb tests, for now.
President Trump’s recent executive order to protect electronics from nuclear EMP ends US government denial of the reality of EMP. Also, the U.S. Air Force Electromagnetic Defense Task Force is focused on protecting electronics, military and civilian, from EMP.
This workshop, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, is intended to inform the international community about nuclear EMP, and discuss ways we can all contribute to educating and protecting modern civilization from it. I believe we must all do our best to reduce the threat of war in general and nuclear war in particular. We, the human race, have had the wisdom to avoid using nuclear EMP so far. Now let’s move forward happily to expose and eliminate this self-destructive threat!

Quick Bio: I'm urgently offering this site to provide accurate information on the current hot nuclear confrontation between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean Government, focused on basic information on nuclear weapons and strategy today, and worldwide efforts to avoid nuclear war. I am a 75-ish rural resident in Mendocino County, CA, with time to indulge my obsession with awakening the public to the ongoing danger of nuclear war. I've made a special study of the race to develop high-altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons, only one of which could disable electronic civilization over wide areas, possibly worldwide. I've written extensively on this topic, and am also the author of "Ecology of Devastation: Indochina" (Penguin Books, 1972). With my beloved wife Barbara, we operate the Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company, hand-harvesters of delectable wild seaweeds, and work constantly for world peace and harmony.

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