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Can The US Survive An EMP Attack?

Public Policy

While there’s no question that a nuclear strike on the Continental US would be utterly devastating, it’s not the only way a rogue state like North Korea could kill millions of American civilians in one fell swoop.

Another possibility that is being studied by lawmakers and Pentagon officials is – like North Korea itself – a vestige of the Cold War. We’re of course referring to an electromagnetic pulse. By detonating a hydrogen bomb in just the right spot miles above the Earth’s surface, the North could permanently damage the US power grid – maybe even take it offline completely. By robbing entire swaths of the US of electricity, the North could precipitate thousands – if not millions – of deaths.

The North first threatened an EMP attack over the summer, and North Korean media and its people have mentioned it several times since.

Given the success of the North’s missile tests, Congress increased funding for the Commission to Assess the Threat to the US from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack as part of the National Defense Authorization Act back in September.

Last month, federal agencies and utility executives held GridEx IV, a biennial event where officials responsible for hundreds of local utilities game out scenarios in which North America’s power grid could fail. Unsurprisingly, with the North Korean threat looming, these discussions took on a whole new level of urgency, as Bloomberg explains.

This year, the event took on an added urgency given growing concern with a weapon straight out of the Cold War: an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, emanating from a nuclear blast – specifically, one delivered by a North Korean missile or satellite detonated miles above the Earth. Though GridEx IV didn’t pose this exact scenario, industry experts concede there’s no clear plan to deal with it.


An EMP could damage electronic circuits over large areas, depending on the configuration of the weapon and how high it was detonated, though there’s disagreement over how effective such a tactic would be. Scientists also emphasize that a nuclear bomb that hits a ground target is much more worrisome. Nevertheless, with North Korea’s increasingly successful missile and warhead tests in mind, Congress moved to renew funding for the Commission to Assess the Threat to the US from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.


In September, the commission’s top officials warned lawmakers that the threat of an EMP attack from a rogue nation “becomes one of the few ways that such a country could inflict devastating damage to the U.S.”


GridEx IV participants said the use of an EMP, however improbable, has been very much on their radar. Lisa Barton, executive vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power Co.’s transmission unit, said the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry research arm, was analyzing the risk. An EPRI report published this week emphasized that widespread damage was indeed possible from such an attack.

The consensus was hardly reassuring. How damaging would an EMP attack be? Well, nobody can say for sure. But according to a report from the Electric Power Research Institute, an EMP could easily trigger a “mass casualty event” – even if its impact was limited to a specific region, as one of their simulations suggested…

Still, the EPRI report paints a picture that’s hard to ignore. Simulations showed that detonating a nuclear weapon about 250 miles above the Earth using a 1.4 megaton bomb, almost 100 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, would likely collapse voltage regionally, affecting several states but not the entire eastern or western networks. “None of the scenarios that were evaluated resulted in a nationwide grid collapse,” the report stated. Recovery time from a high-altitude EMP would depend on equipment damage, something the EPRI said it plans to study next year and “develop cost-effective options for mitigating.”

Fortunately, the operators of America’s power grids have some experience developing emergency response scenarios for an EMP. As it turns out, an EMP would essentially mimic the effects of an extremely powerful solar flare. Power grid operators are constantly on the lookout for flares, and have theorized what improvements might be needed to make power grids totally resistant.

PJM Interconnection LLC, operator of the power grid serving one-fifth of America’s population, has a lot of experience protecting systems against solar activity. PJM has also been working with transmission owners to protect against other threats, many of which have two specific characteristics: low probability and high potential for catastrophe, said Mike Bryson, vice president of operations for the Valley Forge, Pennsylvania-based operator. An EMP is one of them.


Power companies have made a few moves to protect against electromagnetic interference. Some grid operators and transmission infrastructure owners are putting in place so-called Faraday enclosures, shields of conductive material used to protect electronic equipment and facilities. Utilities have also started stockpiling spare parts to replace any that are damaged by an EMP event, storms or other disasters.


“I don’t think we have an illusion we will prevent it,” Bryson said in an interview. “That’s really the government’s job.”

Expensive fortifications known as Faraday cages could help diffuse the energy pulse, possibly stopping it from overwhelming a power grid. Another option would be installing automated control systems that would regulate the grid’s response to an EMP, potentially allowing it to recover more quickly.

Duke Energy Corp., one of the country’s largest utility owners, has been working with EPRI to study its threat to civilian infrastructure. Lee Mazzocchi, Duke’s senior vice president of grid solutions, said “we really want to use science and research to validate if and how much an EMP threat there could be.”


Jon Rogers, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, has been studying the threat since the 1990s. The lab has been looking at how automated control systems could help systems recover. Rogers noted that the grid already has lightning surge arrestors to protect against strikes, which could potentially be useful in case of an EMP. “There are open questions,” he said.


“Back in the Cold War, we worried about massive exchanges at the time with the Soviet bloc,” Rogers said. “There seems to be reduced concern about that and increased concern about a single or smaller surges and what that could mean.” Targeted attacks on specific elements of infrastructure are seen as more likely, including “using an EMP without going nuclear,” added Jeff Engle, vice president of government and legal affairs for United Data Technologies, a security services firm.


“EMP technology itself has been advancing with devices becoming smaller, more effective,” said Engle, who declined to give specific examples. Along these lines, the industry’s stance has been to prepare for less-intense EMPs from irregular lightning strikes, solar flares—and possibly localized attacks.

Researchers at the Edison Electric Institute believe an EMP would be tremendously damaging to a wide range of critical infrastructure…

For EMPs resulting from nuclear blasts, the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group, said the possible effects aren’t fully understood and proposed fixes remain unproven and impractical.


“Other sectors of the economy likely will be affected by a nuclear EMP attack, including other critical infrastructure sectors upon which the electric sector depends,” the group said in a 2015 paper titled Electromagnetic Pulses (EMPs):


Myths vs. Facts. “It makes little sense to protect the electric grid while ignoring these other critical infrastructure sectors.”

…But the costs of fending off such an attack would be astronomical – as one scientist put it. Making the entire US power grid immune to an EMP would cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars.

Richard Mroz, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, warned the cost of preventing widespread failures from an EMP would “be astronomical.” Placing transformers or a substations in shielded cages would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said, while protecting critical assets on a distribution system like New Jersey’s could reach into the billions of dollars.


“Managing that kind of threat right now—no one really has the resources to do that,” Mroz said.

As we pointed out back in October, one expert told Congress that an EMP could kill off 90% of the US population.  People who lived through the New York City blackout in 1977 will remember how lootings and crime exploded while the lights were out. A similar phenomenon would likely play out following an EMP, as law enforcement would be hobbled and powerless to contain criminal behavior.

Think about how Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico by knocking out all communication and electricity infrastructure. Three months later, it has yet to be fully restored. Meanwhile, the death toll from the storms is on track to eclipse the thousands who died during Hurricane Katrina.

…Now imagine that scenario playing out across the entire Atlantic seaboard…


29 Comments on "Can The US Survive An EMP Attack?"

  1. Darrell Cloud on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 11:53 am 

    Read One Second After, then research the odds of another Carrington Event in your life time. Then go over to and look at the population projections for the United States. After you have done that, make your own decision. Twenty gallons of beans and rice will go a long way in a grid down scenario. Our master plan is to try and avoid the golden horde. Within a year’s time the herd will have thinned and our odds for long term survival should go up.

  2. Davy on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 12:17 pm 

    OH, geeze another deagle dot com reference. Darrel did you see what they projected for China’s population? Deagel dot com is not good science. It is an anti-American pipe dream parading as a scientific possibility.

  3. GregT on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 12:49 pm 

    “Deagel dot com is not good science. It is an anti-American pipe dream parading as a scientific possibility.” is an American website.

  4. Davy on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 1:04 pm 

    So what? Besides do you believe everything you read? How do you know it is really American?

  5. Darrell Cloud on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 1:53 pm 

    Actually I hope that deagel is a canard but their prediction is actually more optimistic than the congressional prediction of a 90% loss of population within the first year of grid failure. We Floridians have lived grid down scenarios with each hurricane. Those of us who have experienced it have first hand knowledge of the cascading effect on infrastructure. Publix and Walmart are dead zones because none of the barcode readers work. The clerks do not know how to make change and the freezers defrost. Gas stations cannot pump gas and the night is very, very dark.

  6. Davy on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 2:12 pm 

    Yea Darrel, widespread grid down situation is serious business especially in the developed world. How bad depends on reboot time. The longer the reboot the more dangerous the consequences with a likely break point to worse beyond a certain point.

  7. GregT on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 2:19 pm 

    “So what? Besides do you believe everything you read?”

    I don’t like it any more than you do. I also happen to live in north ‘America’.

  8. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 3:04 pm 

    Nobody is going to attack the US with an EMP because it would cause all the nuke plants to meltdown and would be an extinction event for everyone on earth..

  9. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 3:07 pm 


    Just ignore Greg he is an idiot who thinks the Jews are all evil and run the world…He is no different than Alex Jones…A paranoid loon. Most Canadians besides the ones in the cities are just like the Imbread south of America.

  10. Darrell Cloud on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 3:30 pm 

    Master, I agree. Rational people would not attack the grid. Rational people do not strap on suicide vests and walk into crowds and blow themselves up. Rational people do not shoot into crowds of people because they don’t like their music. But, rational people planned and executed Pearl Harbor. Rational people came within a breath of unleashing WWIII over missiles in Cuba. And rational people are shipping antitank missiles to rebel forces on the borders of Russia. Every fiber of my being distrusts the hubris clearly prevalent in the ruling class. I had ten years’ experience in one of the most corrupt bureaucracies in the world. I worked for one of the chief headhunters in that system. I saw lots of people taken down by their own feeling of invincibility.
    The sun, simple does not care about our reactors. The sun does what it does and there is a 12% chance that the sun will end civilization as we know it.
    For that reason, I look after my own. Part of that process includes prepping for the eventuality of a grid down environment.

  11. antaris on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 3:38 pm 

    I remember asking my Father ” why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour ” he replied ” because they had their Oil cut off “. Now that wouldn’t be happening somewhere in our world today would it ?

  12. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 4:00 pm 

    Darrel all of the things you are arguing are false equivalencies. The only way someone would attack the grid is if they were suicidal and had a death wish because it would end up killing them as well. i am sorry I debunked your fantasy doom. You WANT TO BELIEVE…Get a life you loser.

  13. Makati1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 4:49 pm 

    The grid going gown might cause the nuke plants in the area covered to go down. BUT, they would not explode and spread radiation all over the world. They would be like Fukushima and just melt into the ground. The area around the plants would be deadly, but the world outside those 100 or so areas would be ok radiation wise.

    An EMP is NOT impossible. It is the likely first strike for any serious country like Russia or China or even North Korea. In one stoke it would cripple the US ability to survive as a country and kill millions in a blink, with millions more to die in the next few weeks from starvation and lack of meds.

  14. Makati1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 4:49 pm 


  15. Davy on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 4:57 pm 

    Mad Kat, you are wrong about the NUK fuel ponds and the radiation they can spread. If enough of them burn the world will suffer a serious radiation event. It is not so much just the reactors as the fuel ponds. The fuel ponds are not always in containment building. I am no expert but we have discussed these issues here routinely.

    The US can us an EMP on Russia and China dummy. You want to think otherwise for some reason. I guess it is an agenda thing. Sounds better to you to think it can only happen to the US.

  16. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 5:22 pm 


    Madkat thinks he is a nuclear engineer now..LOL..It will not happen because I say so…LOL…You are right it would for sure happen that is why there is no risk of it happening. And if the US grid went down and collapsed the US the entire world economy would collapse with it. So you would be fucked either way no matter where you lived.

    Madkat I hope you enjoy Christmas all alone by yourself…That is what pieces of shit like you deserve…KARMA!

  17. Makati1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 5:38 pm 

    Well, the two ‘brains’ of PO have posted their usual bullshit. No logic. No thought Just grunts and rants.

    Ponds or building, they will just melt down and contaminate the surrounding areas. NO explosions to spread radioactivity anywhere distant. Stored materials will do the same. Just melt down. No good for most of the US, but no worse than Fukushima spread over the US West and East coasts.

    A US EMP over Russia? What 1/3 of Russia? (12 time zones) Over China? That would be US suicide also. THINK GUYS! The US os a prime target that both China and Russia could do without. And N.Korea surely could. Remember, NK already has two satellites that fly over the US twice daily and could contain the EMP bomb.

  18. Makati1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 5:39 pm 

    MM I am going to a Christmas party later and will be with a number of good friends on Xmas. Even more on New Years. With the internet I have vid and sound to talk to family in the US. Isn’t the internet wonderful? And free. No lsss here. Actually it is a savings. No cold weather or ice. 85F today and sunny here.

  19. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:02 pm 


    Yes the internet is great…Now say hi to your grandpa Madkat little billy he couldn’t be here today because he bugged out like a paranoid loon..I doubt you are going anywhere or even have any friends. someone who wishes death on millions of innocent people daily is not someone most people would want in their lives..

  20. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:02 pm 

    American’s don’t seem to scared of North Korea..Scary what they might do to get everyone to fall back in line..

  21. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:05 pm 


    Do you currently have any problems going to the bathroom on schedule? Have you ever thought about what it will be like to have no control over your bodily functions? Do they sell mens diapers in your country? Or do they all just use their hands?

  22. Davy on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:07 pm 

    mad kat, how many nukes does the US have? Is Russia and China much bigger? Dumbass, where is most of the Russian and Chinese populations? The US could EMP either easily. It is not only a US worry. As for the radiation from burning fuel ponds you are clearly wrong. The amount of ponds that could go critical is more than enough to make the earth dangerously irradiated.

  23. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:46 pm 


    IF the US got EMP and the grid went down killing almost everyone. Our military generals would go batshit insane and shoot off every nuke we had possible. I doubt they would even care who did it they would just blow the whole world to hell…I know if I was a general and my whole entire country got wiped out and i had hundreds of nukes I would take down the rest…Misery loves company.

  24. Anonymouse1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 6:48 pm 

    You don’t need to have convos with your sock exceptionalist. It makes you look, a little….insane. Yes, insane, that’s it.

  25. JuanP on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 8:08 pm 

    An EMP caused by a solar flare, nuclear bomb, or some other weapon is a very real possibility. If there ever is a nuclear war the USA is likely to suffer multiple EMP attacks. It is good to prepare to live without electricity. Passive solar, ventilation, insulation, warm clothes, wood stoves and fireplaces, kerosene lamps, a good library, board games, playing cards, a music instrument, and some other similar preps will make all the difference when it happens.

  26. MASTERMIND on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 8:15 pm 

    Juan how would you know whats a possibility? Are you a military general? If the Pentagon wants their grass cut or their apples picked they call you..Okay?

  27. Makati1 on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 9:47 pm 

    Juan, MM is pretending to be a chemist and poo pooing anyone who has brains and can think for themselves. ANY nuclear explosion causes an EMP pulse. Hundreds (The likely number that would be used on the US, would wipe out all electronics across the country, including the grid. And the
    US has no way to stop it. Not even close.

    “A nuclear electromagnetic pulse (commonly abbreviated as nuclear EMP, pronounced /iː.ɛm.piː/, or NEMP) is a burst of electromagnetic radiation created by nuclear explosions.” WIKI

    “A nuclear detonation creates plenty of terrifying effects, including a blinding (and burning) flash of light, a building-toppling blast wave, an incendiary fireball, and radioactive fallout that can drift for hundreds of miles.”

    But there’s a lesser-known consequence of a nuclear explosion that can drastically expand its damage zone: an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.

    A current Russian nuclear armed sub carries about 120 nuclear warheads. Enough top target most East Coast cities. Two subs can take out ~80% of the US population. in about 10 minutes.

    The fools in DC think they can beat on the bear without payback. Or threaten China without repercussions. As I keep saying, insanity rules the US today.

  28. fmr-paultard on Sat, 23rd Dec 2017 10:17 pm 

    why are you guys talking about EMP/nuclear. according to eurotard it is fake. didn’t make this up.

  29. Sissyfuss on Sun, 24th Dec 2017 7:56 am 

    Thanks alot Mak. 85°. We got 5 inches of snow coming today and a high of 10 on Tuesday. Merry stinking Xmyass.

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