WHAT IS EMP?
Electromagnetic pulse is a sudden burst of electromagnetic energy that is released as a byproduct of a nuclear detonation. While you don’t necessarily need a nuke to produce an EMP, most commonly when the topic of EMP is brought up, people are referring to the kind generated after a nuclear explosion. In the early days of nuclear testing (think Manhattan Project times), it was noticed that when a nuclear bomb was detonated, the blast was accompanied by a strong but brief pulse of electromagnetic energy.
Since the earliest nuclear bombs were detonated on or below the surface of the earth (or ocean), this electromagnetic pulse was fairly localized and not of particular interest to early scientists. Somewhere in the nuclear testing process and after World War II, more extensive tests of air burst and high altitude nuclear bombs were conducted, and it became apparent through both the American tests (Starfish Prime) and the Soviet tests (Test 184) that the secondary effects of a nuclear detonation of altitude produced strong electromagnetic energy.
These tests drew the attention of scientists to EMP, and it began to be extensively studied and tested; it was soon discovered that an electromagnetic pulse represented a powerful weapon in and of itself – perhaps one that exceeded the destructive capability of even nuclear weapons. Essentially, it was learned that if a small nuclear device (single digit kilotons) was detonated at high altitudes (80-100 miles above the surface of the Earth), the phenomenon of EMP would occur: a powerful wave of electromagnetic energy that bounced off the Earth’s magnetosphere and came rushing back in fractions of a second, frying sensitive electronics, overloading power lines, permanently damaging transformers, and basically wreaking havoc with anything having to do with electricity or electrical devices.
In the 1950s and 1960s when both America and the Soviet Union were extensively testing EMP theories and designs, there wasn’t a particularly robust electrical grid system in either country. Additionally, no one had cellular phones, and only a few government and educational facilities possessed computers. Electronic devices, in other words, were few and far between, and yet the effects of EMP were still felt. During the Starfish Prime tests, America detonated a series of high altitude nukes.
In one detonation over the South Pacific, a powerful electromagnetic pulse struck the Big Island of Hawaii, over 900 miles from the detonation site. This EMP fried the telecom link between the islands, disabled electrical transformers, and darkened streetlights among other things. Soviet Test 184 had similar results; a high altitude nuke detonated over rural Russia caused a power plant to catch fire several hundred miles away from overloaded power lines, as well as knocking out generators over an area of hundreds of square miles. Still, since the most people had little in the way of sensitive electronic devices, these tests saw the byproduct of EMP as a novelty rather than a threat to the modern way of life.
Today things are much, much different. Every family has cell phones, flat screen TVs, multiple computers, and smart appliances. Everything from street lights to gas lines to aircraft systems are computer controlled. Technology is everywhere, and inseparable to our way of life. This is why the statement that EMP is capable of sending America back to the stone ages in a microsecond is not only true, it’s totally frightening.