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In the event of a nuclear bombing, electromagnetic pulse would be the least of our worries

The electromagnetic pulse that comes from the sundering of an atom, potentially destroying electronics within the blast radius with some impact miles away from ground zero,  is just one of many effects of every nuclear blast. What is peculiar about these pulses, often referred to as EMPs, is the way the side effect of a nuclear blast is treated as a  special threat in its own right by bodies such as the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, which, despite the official-sounding name, is a privately funded group.

 These groups continue a decadelong tradition of obsession over EMPs, one President Donald Trump and others have picked up on. These EMP-specific fears are wholly divorced from the normal risk calculations of a war between nuclear-armed states and the threat of nuclear oblivion. Doing so obscures the history—and misunderstands the dangers.

EMPs were anticipated before they existed. Enrico Fermi of the Manhattan Project hardened sensors at the Trinity test site so that the detonation would remain useful science. Later nuclear tests would look at the way this pulse risked disabling other warheads in flight, and what would happen if a warhead was detonated so high above Earth that the pulse was its primary effect.

For the early planners of the apocalypse, the greatest risk posed by an EMP was to nuclear warheads themselves. Strategic planning called for multiple warheads to obliterate a city, and the engineers were worried about what might happen if the first nuke to explode disabled the electronics inside the other warheads, causing them to land inert instead. This was called “warhead fratricide,” and researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory ran Monte Carlo simulations to estimate the odds.
Once understood, the problem of nuclear weapons disabling other nuclear weapons was solved, primarily, by engineering around the known parameters of EMPs. Hardening electronics, with special shielding that directs current around sensitive parts of machines, has been a staple of nuclear weapon design for decades. It is a known, solvable problem. The U.S. Department of Defense absolutely requires hardening for military electronics critical to nuclear command and control, while standards exist to harden other electronics, as well as civilian infrastructure that the military depends on for non-nuclear threats.
That hasn’t stopped it becoming a perpetual bugbear of strategists. …………..

at a time when the primary concern of the U.S. nuclear enterprise was preparing for, and deterring, a war with the Soviet Union. That arsenal, now Russian, remains the primary concern of nuclear forces. Russia, like the United States, maintains a standing arsenal of over 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons. That’s the scale where, should either country decide to launch a nuclear attack, a warhead or three could be spared to create a high-altitude EMP effect against another country without significantly reducing the total harm caused by the more familiar blasts and pressure waves of nuclear detonation. The destruction to electronics, as in Hiroshima, would be a very low-level concern compared to the charred bodies of children and cities on fire.

For the rest of the nuclear-armed world, with total arsenals estimated at between 35 to 320 warheads, using one of them for an EMP effect makes even less strategic sense.
What is known about nuclear weapons is the damage they cause to people, to cities, and to physical objects from physical force. These are the effects that haunt our understanding of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A nuclear blast is an unsubtle form of harm. Focusing on EMPs outside the context of a broader nuclear war assumes a wholly unique strategic calculus, one that sits outside any understanding of war or even terrorism. It ascribes nearly supernatural powers to electronics and the threatened loss thereof. And it assumes that detonating a nuclear weapon in orbit over a country would not be met with the same immediate and hostile reaction as detonating a nuclear weapon in a city.
To fear the EMP is to look at the vast military strength of the United States, and see, as Franks did, that strength as a surrogate for a unique vulnerability. It is to imagine that the United States has built itself an Achilles’ heel, one that when pricked will lead to the collapse of all of Western civilization…………
Nuclear war is a serious threat. It has been for decades, however much we might want to forget about it. But the idea of a nuclear weapon creating an EMP without immediately sparking a nuclear war is entirely laughable.

July 23, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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