Update: I’ve made slight changes to this post at the request of Mr. Weyer, based on a more recent version of his report. The revision reflects an additional reference, House Bill HR 668.
I’ve written from time to time about the danger of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack on the electrical and electronic infrastructure of the United States. The most commonly described scenario involves a relatively low-tech and low-cost operation by Iran, in which a missile launcher concealed in the hold of a freighter is used to deploy and detonate a nuclear device high over the East Coast of the USA. But other scenarios are possible, including a devastating natural disaster of similar magnitude caused by a solar flare.
The following report has been sitting in my “to-do” folder since last spring, awaiting proof-reading and final formatting. It was written John Weyer, and previously submitted in a slightly different form to think tanks and other institutions. Many thanks to Mr. Weyer for collecting and collating all the crucial data on EMPs and EMDs.
Summary of Electromagnetic Disturbance (EMD) Risks
(October 2010 Version)
by John A. Weyer
My resources have been devoted to trying to help protect the U.S. against the risks of H-EMP/solar storms. Most leaders are in the 51st State of Denial.
To understand the risks, imagine the recent loss of electrical power in Japan and the crippling dangers of failed nuclear reactors’ cooling systems occurring all over the U.S.
The EMD Risks and Threats to Our Society
- This memo is written to alert our society that we are presently at serious risk from EMD. The EMD risks are from both natural (another great or severe solar storm) and manmade (electromagnetic pulse; EMP) sources.
- Essential protection for EMP can also protect against great or severe solar storms.
- Almost the entire electronic and electrical foundations for our economic and societal infrastructures are fatally flawed in the face of EMD.
- Up until now, our government and business sectors have not been reacting appropriately to these very serious threats. There is minimal advocacy on this issue, and some are constrained by security clearances.
The EMD Risks: Great or Severe Solar Storms
- Sunspots can emit coronal mass ejections (CME) which in turn can create solar storms on Earth; they are totally unpredictable, provide little warning, and recurrences are inevitable.
- The 1859 Great Solar Storm damaged/destroyed the nascent U.S. telegraph system devices. A 2008 NASA-NAS severe space weather study — cited below — estimates that damages from a very severe solar storm could include loss of the power grid from Ground Induced Currents (GICs) for a few years, causing societal havoc.
- The severe solar storm of 1921 was not as strong as in 1859, but communications and electrical railroad equipment were damaged or destroyed where the storm was focused in New York.
- At least one expert put the potential risk of recurrence of a severe solar storm as high as 1 in 100.
- There have been several severe solar storms and many lesser solar storms since 1859, including 1989/2003.
The EMD Threats: Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) and High-altitude EMP (HEMP)
- About 60 years ago we began — and about 45 years ago we accelerated — the replacement of vacuum tubes, which are highly robust to electromagnetic disturbances (one million times more robust), with solid state electronics, which are highly vulnerable to electromagnetic disturbance. The Soviets/Russians did not switch from vacuum tubes for military or critical infrastructures use.
- Our remaining very experienced EMP experts are down to a handful. The Congressional FY 2009 Budget defunded the very important pro bono EMP Commission (EMP-C). It was authorized in 2001 and 2006 and it issued comprehensive, major reports in 2004 and 2008 (perhaps one-quarter is open source, but tells the story).
- The EMP-C has done outstanding work to uncover and identify the EMD risks (EMP, HEMP, solar storms and other related risks) as well as provide initial roadmaps for the protection of our society’s many critical infrastructures from these risks. The power grid is the most critical infrastructure.
- The commission hired retired senior Russian and former Soviet generals in 2003 to tell us about the Russian electromagnetic weapons and programs. We only confirmed/learned then (2003) that the Russians/Soviets had a super-High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) weapon that is four times stronger than our EMD defense standard for our strategic weapons/facilities. Some experts do not believe this, but the EMP-C believes this.
- This super-EMP tuned nuclear weapon — as little as 10 kilotons (KT) is needed, smaller than the Hiroshima atom bomb — can potentially deliver 200,000 volts-per-meter (V/m; voltage between two metal plates one meter apart) to the ground below a mid-U.S. detonation and well over 50,000 V/m up to perhaps 100,000 V/m or more at the coastal margins of our nation. However, multiple detonations are possible to maintain higher voltages.
- An upper Midwest detonation at 225 miles altitude reaches the entire U.S.; at 80 to 100 miles above the East Coast it would reach 70% of the U.S. power grid. Some experts believe a megaton nuclear weapon is needed to HEMP the entire U.S.; the highly distinguished EMP-C believes only a super-HEMP 10 KT weapon is needed.
- This super weapon’s E1 phase electromagnetic pulse effects alone could severely damage or destroy our entire unprotected electronic and electrical infrastructures as presently constituted; its E2 & E3 effects are lessened.
- HEMP E3’s full damaging effects are similar to a solar storm’s ground induced currents (GIC).
- If attacked by this super-HEMP weapon, the EMP-C said the power grid could be out for a year or more, and over 80% of the U.S. population could expire from starvation and/or disease.
- We can prevent this horrendous scenario with EMD protection for our critical infrastructure — especially the power grid. The cost is reasonable versus the horrific “costs” of not protecting.
- If the 2004 EMP-C recommendations had been implemented, we would be well underway by now.
- The incentives for our enemies to anonymously attack us with a HEMP weapon are overwhelming. The Russians/Soviets and the Chinese have been proliferating HEMP component technologies to rogue states at least since the 1980s, creating many “return addresses” for a HEMP attack and removing their “fingerprints.”
- In turn, rogue states are possibly proliferating these technologies to certain terror groups.
- These growing threat sources compare to one threat “address” in the Cold War — the USSR.
- Therefore, Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has been effectively rendered obsolete by this asymmetric (a low-tech nation can effectively attack and destroy a high-tech nation) and anonymous (we may never know the attacker) super-HEMP weapon. There will no way to trace an atmospheric nuclear detonation to its source.
- In 1999, an annoyed senior Russian Dumas member threatened our representatives with an anonymous HEMP attack upon our East Coast from a submarine to knock out 70% of the U.S. power grid.
- Our enemies have said that they will attack/destroy us and have been preparing and practicing for a HEMP attack.
- Iran launched missiles from a barge, a cargo ship hold, a submarine and detonated them at HEMP apogees.
- North Korea has launched missiles to HEMP apogees and their small nuclear weapon tests can be enhanced to sufficient size and EMP output for a HEMP attack upon the U.S. They have submarines and cargo ships.
- Also, there are non-nuclear, ground-based EMP-type weapons that can be used locally to attack parts of a city or critical facilities. This encompasses public and private sector critical facilities including key operations and communications centers, key financial centers, banks, and so on. The cost of these weapons is nominal.
Recent Actions to Date
- From 2006 on I have studied/acted upon these risks on a pro bono basis from my own resources.
- I have alerted DOD U.S. nuclear defense section to my concerns in May 2007 and they accepted them; DHS has not.
- In 2008 and 2009 I worked with a top scientist and engineer on these risks. In February 2009 we alerted an overseer of the legacy power grid and our concerns were accepted. A workshop held in Nov. 2009 and a report issued on June 2, 2010 acknowledged EMD risks to power grid.
- In February and May 2009 I alerted the head of the Smart Grid Roadmap and the Smart Grid May Workshop to these issues, and they were accepted as serious concerns.
- The most critical infrastructure is the power grid, and I have sought to help begin the EMD protection process.
- Initial funding — $100 million — to protect against cyber/HEMP/solar storms passed the House in 2009: “The Grid Act.”
- Next in importance are the communications infrastructures. However, the many critical infrastructures identified by the EMP Commission (including life-sustaining and -maintaining water, food, fuel, healthcare, transportation, financial services and so on) are interrelated.
- If we can sufficiently protect and then be able to quickly recover most of the power grid, we hope to save a few hundred million lives. A leading scientist and engineer estimates it would only cost a few hundred million dollars to protect the most critical at-risk large transformers in the U.S. This alone could help save most of the few hundred million lives at risk, through more rapid power grid recovery.
- I am also examining EMD protection for government- and enterprise-critical facilities.
- The potential loss of societal information from EMD could dwarf the losses at the Ancient Library of Alexandria and in the Dark Ages. Think of the state of our society without the stock and flow of digital information.
- Because of general government inaction to date, we likely face at least a decade (assuming the government begins to act) during which we are at very high risk until necessary and sufficient EMD protection is put into place.
- The private sector must begin the societal EMD protection process; EMP-C says it is on its own.
The Need for More EMD Expertise and an Institute
- Among my serious concerns at this time is the paucity and decline of experienced U.S. EMD experts.
- The private sector has to begin its own EMD protection process per the EMP Commission’s conclusion.
- As the Rockefeller family created the Rockefeller Institute (RI) in 1901 (now Rockefeller University) to advance the nascent science of medicine, we need a RI-type entity to advance the science and strategy of EMD protection for our critical infrastructures and critical facilities as well as for our entire society.
- We also need to devise cost-effective and sufficient EMD protection for solid-state electronics and/or find alternatives to the solid-state electronics used in our critical infrastructures and our critical government and critical enterprise facilities. For example, fiber optic cabling offers protection as part of an overall plan.
- We are still in the early stages of devising commercial EMP standards and evaluating the newly discovered super-HEMP weapon, and determining the best methods to protect our infrastructures and our society. The validity of military EMP standards in light of the more powerful EMP weapon needs to be evaluated.
- Presently, if EMD protection is incorporated during the design phase, it adds an estimated few percent to several percent to the total cost of electrical and electronic devices.
- Retrofitting infrastructure for EMD protection is perhaps up to several times more expensive.
- However, the high turnover of electronic equipment allows for cost-effective EMD protection over time.
- After the Cold War ended, our military generally used non-EMP-protected commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment due to tight budgets. Therefore, our armed forces are at EMP risk.
- If corporations, foundations and individuals fund an electromagnetic disturbance protection institute, it can capture our remaining electromagnetic pulse institutional memory.
- It would also allow us to assemble the remaining EMD experts to document their expertise and experience, while training new experts and guiding university programs to expand expertise.
- It will advance the science of EMD protection for our critical infrastructures and our society.
- We can take the possibility of this horrendous event occurring off the table for a reasonable societal cost.
What Can We All Do to Help Protect America and Our Families From These Great Natural and Man-Made Electromagnetic Pulse Risks?
- Contact your Congressman and Senators and ask them to study and consider passage of The Shield Act (HR 668), “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”. The effort has been non-partisan to date.
- Contact the Speaker of the House and your congressman to request that the pro bono House Armed Services Committee EMP Commission be restored to full funding ASAP. This to be done on a rolling five-year basis to complete the preparations for and the monitoring of the protection of our government and critical national infrastructures against GIC and EMP until this critical task is completed. Designing a Civil Defense-type system to protect American lives was to be undertaken by the EMP Commission in FY 2009 before funding was denied.
- Contact the President, your senators, DHS AND DOE to request that America enact the highest priority orders to protect our critical national infrastructures against GIC and EMP. This is to be done to protect over 240 million American lives against a Great Solar Storm or a HEMP attack.
- Contact your governor and local representatives to request the public utilities commissions require the power generation and distribution companies (and other life-sustaining infrastructure) within the states be fully protected against natural great or severe solar storm’s Ground Induced Currents (GIC) and man-made electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Also, the state power systems must be “islanded” against the cascading effects of a massive Eastern Grid power failure from GIC or EMP and have sufficient “black start” restart power.
- Also, while we are vulnerable, the President, governors and representatives must restore a Civil Defense-type infrastructure to store critical life sustaining supplies of food, water and medicine on a community by community basis. This includes protecting critical medical and other facilities and vehicles against GIC and EMP and enacting laws to allow the stockpiling and collection of essential food, water, medicines and other critical needs with the bounds of each community. This needs to done for life-sustaining rationing until the critical, life-sustaining infrastructures are restored to full use. First responders and state and local Civil Defense teams must be trained to handle an emergency arising from these risks and threats.
Finally, rational family survival plans must be developed to accumulate life-sustaining supplies that will be needed to endure such horrendous events. Until a new Civil Defense-type infrastructure is sufficiently restored on a state/local basis, no help will likely come from any source.
The primary sources for the above information are:
|1.||The 2004 and 2008 EMP Commission reports and Dr. Graham’s open hearing verbal responses to questions at the July 10, 2008 HASC EMP Hearing — see video, for there is no transcript of the hearing.|
|2.||National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Space Studies Board’s 2008 “Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts Workshop Report”.|
|3.||DOE/NERC Report, “High-Impact, Low-Frequency Event Risk to the North American Bulk Power System” [pdf], June 2, 2010.|
|4.||HR 668, “Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act”.|
©2010, 2011 John A. Weyer