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EMP Events and the Threat to Our Digital World

Exploring the risks and preparedness for Carrington-like solar events and nuclear EMPs.

37 min read
EMP Events and the Threat to Our Digital World

Table of Contents

For years, I've been hearing anecdotal accounts of the vulnerability of our nation's electrical grid.

There have been a handful of well known instances of major outages such as the 2003 Northeast blackout and the power crisis in Texas of 2021.

Some say there's a real threat of a more widespread outage.

I've heard a number of people say it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when" the national power grid goes out.

Is this true?

Recently a video came up in my YouTube feed that caught my attention.

It was Dennis Quaid of all people, talking about the vulnerability of our nation's power grid.

He was saying our electrical grid and electrical devices are vulnerable to devastation by natural phenomena as well as to an adversarial attack.

He was also saying that there was a study on this subject that showed that if such an event were to occur, 90% of our population would be dead within a year.

Is this real or is this crazy talk?

In an effort to verify or refute Quaid's claims, I spoke with a fictional AI persona, Dr. Casey Morrow, Ph.D. in Astrophysics and Electrical Engineering, with over 15 years of experience in space weather phenomena and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) research, currently leading the Space Weather and Infrastructure Resilience Initiative at the Global Research Institute."

The Carrington Event

Layng: What was The Carrington Event?

Dr. Casey Morrow: The Carrington Event was a massive solar storm that hit Earth on September 1–2, 1859. It's named after Richard Carrington, the British astronomer who first observed the solar flare associated with the storm. This event caused the largest geomagnetic disturbances on record, leading to auroras seen around the world, even in tropical regions. Telegraph systems across Europe and North America failed, in some cases giving operators electric shocks or even working when disconnected from power sources. The Carrington Event remains one of the most powerful examples of solar activity's potential to disrupt human technology, serving as a benchmark for studying and preparing for future solar storms.

Are We Sure?

Layng: How certain are we that this event occurred?

Dr. Morrow: We are very certain that the Carrington Event occurred, based on historical records and scientific analyses. The event was well-documented at the time by astronomers, including Richard Carrington and others, who observed and recorded the intense solar flare that preceded the geomagnetic disturbances. Additionally, there are numerous accounts of the widespread effects on the telegraph system, which was the most advanced form of communication technology at the time. These accounts describe telegraph equipment sparking, malfunctioning, and in some cases, operating without power, indicating the strength of the geomagnetic currents induced by the solar storm.

Further scientific analysis, including the examination of ice core samples, has allowed researchers to confirm the occurrence of the Carrington Event and assess its magnitude. These ice cores contain nitrates and beryllium-10, which are byproducts of cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. Their levels spike during solar storms, providing a way to track historical solar activity. The evidence from these various sources gives us a high degree of confidence that the Carrington Event did indeed occur and was a significant geomagnetic phenomenon.

What Caused It?

Layng: What was the cause of The Carrington Event?

Dr. Morrow: The Carrington Event was caused by a massive solar flare, which is a sudden eruption of intense high-energy radiation from the sun's surface. This particular solar flare was observed by Richard Carrington, hence the event's name. Solar flares are associated with sunspots, which are cooler, darker areas on the sun's surface caused by magnetic activity. The flare that led to the Carrington Event was part of a larger solar storm, also known as a geomagnetic storm, which is caused when a cloud of solar plasma, or a coronal mass ejection (CME), is ejected from the sun and collides with the Earth's magnetic field.

This collision causes a chain of events, including disturbances in the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere, leading to the geomagnetic storms and auroras observed during the Carrington Event. The interaction of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun, with Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere, amplified the effects of the solar storm. The intense geomagnetic disturbances and the extended reach of auroras, even to tropical regions, were indicative of the extraordinary power of this solar event. The Carrington Event stands out as one of the most potent examples of how solar activity can directly impact Earth's magnetic environment and technological systems.

How Probable Is It?

Layng: What is the probability we will experience another event like The Carrington Event?

Dr. Morrow: The probability of experiencing another event like the Carrington Event is considered to be low in any given year, but it is not negligible over longer periods. Studies and statistical models suggest that the likelihood of a Carrington-level solar storm hitting Earth can vary widely in the estimates, but a commonly cited figure is a 1% to 2% chance per year. This means that over a span of 100 years, the probability becomes quite significant, suggesting that such an event could reasonably be expected to occur at least once in that timeframe.

Solar activity follows an approximately 11-year cycle, with periods of both higher and lower solar activity. However, the occurrence of extreme solar storms, like the Carrington Event, does not correlate perfectly with these cycles and can happen at any time.

Given the potential impact of such an event on modern technology, including power grids, communication systems, and satellites, the risk, while low in any given year, is taken seriously by governments and industries. Efforts are underway to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure and to develop better forecasting and mitigation strategies for solar storms. This includes enhanced monitoring of solar activity and the development of more robust electrical and communication systems to withstand the potential impacts of extreme space weather events.

What Would Happen?

Layng: Tell me what we should expect here in the United States in 2024 if a Carrington Event were to occur.

Dr. Morrow: If a Carrington-like event were to occur in 2024, the United States could face significant challenges and disruptions due to our heavy reliance on technology and electricity. Here's what to expect:

  1. Power Grids: The most immediate and potentially devastating impact would be on the power grid. The induced electrical currents from the geomagnetic storm could damage transformers and other critical infrastructure, leading to widespread power outages. The restoration of power could take weeks to months, depending on the extent of the damage and the availability of replacement equipment.
  2. Communications: Satellite communications, including GPS systems, could be severely disrupted or knocked out. This would affect not only personal navigation devices but also critical sectors like aviation, shipping, and military operations. Cell phone networks and internet services could also face significant disruptions due to the loss of satellite connectivity and power outages.
  3. Transportation: Air travel might be significantly disrupted due to navigation and communication challenges. Electrically powered trains and subways could also be affected if power grids fail.
  4. Banking and Finance: Transactions that rely on electronic networks, including ATMs and credit card transactions, could be disrupted, causing significant economic impact.
  5. Emergency Services: The functionality of emergency services could be compromised, affecting disaster response capabilities. Power outages and communication failures could hinder the coordination of relief efforts.
  6. Healthcare: Hospitals and healthcare facilities would be under strain from power losses, affecting the operation of medical devices and preservation of medications. Backup generators would be critical, but their operational duration would be a concern if power outages were prolonged.
  7. Water and Food Supply: Water treatment and distribution could be impacted due to power failures, leading to potential water shortages. Similarly, the food supply chain could be disrupted, affecting refrigeration and distribution.

To mitigate these risks, it's important for the government, industries, and communities to enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure, improve forecasting and warning systems for solar storms, and develop response and recovery plans. While complete prevention of damage is not possible, preparedness can significantly reduce the impact of such an event.

Keeping Electronics Safe

Layng: How can we keep our electronics safe in the event of a Carrington Event?

Dr. Morrow: Protecting electronics during a Carrington-like event involves minimizing exposure to electromagnetic fields and ensuring that critical infrastructure can withstand or quickly recover from the effects of a severe solar storm. Here are several strategies:

  1. Faraday Cages: Store important electronics, such as smartphones, radios, and spare electronic parts, in Faraday cages. A Faraday cage is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. You can use commercially available Faraday bags or construct a DIY version using materials like aluminum foil and a cardboard box.
  2. Surge Protectors: Use surge protectors for electronic devices that are essential but cannot be disconnected from the power grid. While surge protectors may not prevent all damage during a massive geomagnetic event, they can offer some level of protection against electrical surges.
  3. Unplug Electronics: In anticipation of a solar storm, unplug electronic devices to protect them from potential power surges. This is a simple yet effective way to reduce the risk of damage.
  4. Backup Power: Have backup power options available, such as solar chargers, battery packs, or generators, to keep critical devices operational in the event of a prolonged power outage. Ensure these are charged or have fuel available.
  5. Emergency Communication Plan: Since traditional communication networks may be disrupted, have an alternative communication plan in place. This could include satellite phones (which might still be operational depending on the storm's impact on satellites) or two-way radios.
  6. Data Backups: Regularly back up important data to physical drives that can be stored in a Faraday cage and consider cloud storage options as well, understanding that internet access may be disrupted.
  7. Vehicle Protection: Modern vehicles with electronic ignition systems and computer-controlled engines could potentially be affected. Keeping a spare electronic control module (ECM) in a Faraday cage could be a prudent measure for essential vehicles.
  8. Community and Government Infrastructure: Advocating for and supporting efforts to harden the grid and other critical infrastructure against electromagnetic events is crucial. This includes installing grid-level surge protectors, creating redundancies, and ensuring rapid repair capabilities.

Implementing these strategies can help mitigate the risk to electronics and ensure that you have functioning technology to communicate, navigate, and meet basic needs during and after a Carrington-level event.

Impact on People

Layng: Does a Carrington Event hurt people?

Dr. Morrow: Directly, a Carrington Event itself is unlikely to harm people. The primary effects of such a solar storm are on electrical and communication systems. The health and safety risks to humans would mainly come from the secondary consequences of the event, such as:

  1. Power Outages: Extended power outages could affect heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration, leading to potential health risks, especially for vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with medical conditions requiring powered devices.
  2. Water Supply: Disruptions to water treatment and supply systems could lead to water shortages or unsafe drinking water, posing health risks.
  3. Food Supply: Prolonged power outages could disrupt the food supply chain, affecting food preservation and access to fresh food, leading to nutritional concerns.
  4. Healthcare Services: Healthcare facilities could be strained by power losses and communication failures, impacting the operation of medical devices and preservation of medicines, which could be critical for patients dependent on such services.
  5. Emergency Response: Disruption to communication networks could hinder emergency response efforts, potentially delaying assistance to those in urgent need.
  6. Increased Stress and Mental Health Challenges: The societal and economic impacts of a massive solar storm could lead to increased stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges as communities struggle to cope with the aftermath.

While the solar storm itself doesn't pose a direct physical threat to human health, the cascading effects on infrastructure and society highlight the importance of preparedness and resilience planning to mitigate these indirect risks.

A Real-World Scenario

Layng: Tell me a likely real-world scenario and series of events we should expect to occur if a Carrington Event occurs today in the United States.

Dr. Morrow: If a Carrington Event were to occur today in the United States, the sequence of events and their impact would unfold in stages, highlighting our dependence on electricity and technology. Here's a likely scenario:

Initial Hours

  • Solar Observatories Alert: Solar observatories and space weather monitoring agencies detect a massive solar flare and issue warnings of an impending geomagnetic storm. There's a short window (approximately 17-48 hours) between the alert and the storm's arrival at Earth.
  • Government and Utility Response: Emergency services, government agencies, and utility companies initiate preparedness protocols, but there's limited time to mitigate the impact.

Arrival and Immediate Impact

  • Geomagnetic Disturbances Begin: As the solar storm hits Earth, the first signs are spectacular auroras visible even in low-latitude areas far from the poles, signaling the strength of the geomagnetic disturbances.
  • Power Grids Overloaded: The electrical currents induced in the Earth's surface begin to overload power grids. Transformers, particularly high-voltage types, start to fail in some areas, leading to widespread power outages.

24 to 72 Hours After Impact

  • Communication Breakdowns: Satellite systems suffer malfunctions, affecting GPS, communication, and weather forecasting satellites. This results in disruptions to cell phone service, internet, and navigation systems.
  • Transportation Disruptions: Air travel is significantly affected due to navigation and communication issues. Trains and other electrically powered transportation face delays or shutdowns.
  • Banking and Commerce Halt: Electronic transactions are disrupted, ATMs are offline, and the financial system grinds to a halt due to communication failures and power outages.
  • Emergency Services Stretched Thin: 911 services and emergency communications are overwhelmed or inoperative in some areas, complicating rescue and medical efforts.

One Week and Beyond

  • Extended Power Outages: Efforts to restore power are hampered by the widespread damage to the electrical infrastructure. Some areas may face extended outages lasting weeks to months.
  • Public Health and Safety Concerns: The lack of power affects water treatment and distribution, leading to shortages and potential public health crises. The absence of refrigeration compromises food safety, and supply chains are disrupted.
  • Economic Impact: The cumulative effect of disruptions in transportation, communications, banking, and commerce leads to significant economic losses and job disruptions.
  • Community and Government Response: Communities and governments mobilize makeshift responses, setting up emergency shelters and distribution centers for essentials. Efforts to import and distribute portable generators and other emergency supplies are prioritized.
  • Long-term Recovery: The focus shifts to rebuilding and repairing the damaged infrastructure, a process that could take months to years. There's also a push to improve resilience against future solar storms, including hardening the power grid and developing more robust communication systems.

This scenario underscores the complexity and interconnectedness of modern infrastructure and the cascading effects that could follow a Carrington-level event today. It highlights the importance of preparedness, resilience planning, and international cooperation in mitigating the impacts of such a rare but potentially devastating natural event.

Is This a Significant Risk?

Layng: How would you characterize the risk such an event would pose to our national security?

Dr. Morrow: A Carrington-level event poses a substantial risk to national security due to its potential to disrupt critical infrastructure, communication networks, and defense capabilities. Here's a breakdown of the key national security concerns:

Communications Disruption

  • Satellite Communications: Many national security operations rely on satellite communications, which could be severely disrupted or disabled. This would affect military command and control, intelligence gathering, and surveillance activities.
  • Secure Communications: The loss of secure communication channels would complicate coordination among defense entities, potentially leaving military units and national security agencies unable to effectively communicate during crucial periods.

Power Grid Failure

  • Military Bases and Infrastructure: Prolonged power outages would affect military bases, hindering operational readiness and support systems. While military facilities often have backup power systems, these may not be sufficient for extended disruptions.
  • Industrial Defense Base: The defense manufacturing sector, crucial for the production and maintenance of military equipment, could be severely impacted by power and communication disruptions, delaying production and repair processes.

Transportation and Logistics

  • Mobility: The ability to deploy forces and equipment could be compromised if transportation networks are affected. This includes potential disruptions to air traffic control systems, railway networks, and port operations.
  • Supply Chains: Military operations depend on timely and secure supply chains. Disruptions could affect the delivery of critical supplies, including food, fuel, and ammunition.

Cybersecurity and Information Warfare

  • Increased Vulnerability: The chaos and confusion resulting from a Carrington-level event could be exploited by adversaries to launch cyberattacks on vulnerable systems, engage in misinformation campaigns, or conduct covert operations.

Economic Stability and Homeland Security

  • Economic Impact: The economic fallout from a severe solar storm could strain national resources, diverting attention and funds from defense to recovery efforts.
  • Civil Unrest: Large-scale infrastructure failures could lead to public unrest, requiring significant law enforcement and possibly military intervention to maintain order.

Strategic and Global Stability

  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS): Disruption to GPS services would affect not only navigation but also timing systems that underpin global financial transactions, communication networks, and military operations.
  • International Security: The global nature of such an event could simultaneously weaken the security postures of multiple nations, potentially leading to destabilization in certain regions or altering the balance of power.

Given these considerations, a Carrington-level event is a significant national security concern. It underscores the need for comprehensive preparedness, resilience planning, and international cooperation to mitigate the risks and ensure rapid recovery capabilities in the event of such a geomagnetic disturbance.

Protecting Our Vehicles

Layng: How can we protect our vehicles?

Dr. Morrow: Protecting vehicles from the effects of a Carrington Event, especially modern vehicles with electronic control systems, involves a few precautionary steps and considerations. Here’s how you can protect your vehicle:

  1. Understand the Risk: Most concerns stem from the potential damage to a vehicle’s electronic control units (ECUs), which manage functions like fuel injection, ignition, and engine timing. A severe geomagnetic storm could theoretically induce currents strong enough to damage these sensitive components.
  2. Use a Faraday Cage: Storing a vehicle in a Faraday cage would be the most effective way to shield it from electromagnetic fields. However, constructing a Faraday cage large enough for a vehicle is impractical for most people. An alternative is to focus on protecting critical spare parts, such as ECUs, by storing them in smaller Faraday-shielded containers.
  3. Garage Parking: While not as effective as a Faraday cage, parking your vehicle in a garage can offer some shielding from electromagnetic fields compared to parking it outdoors. This is more about minimizing exposure rather than complete protection.
  4. Mechanical Backup: For those who rely heavily on their vehicles for evacuation or emergency mobility, considering a vehicle with fewer electronic components, such as older models that do not rely on modern ECUs for operation, might be a prudent backup option. These vehicles are less susceptible to electromagnetic interference.
  5. Spare Electronic Parts: Keeping spare electronic parts, specifically an ECU, for your vehicle could be a wise precaution. Stored properly (e.g., in a Faraday bag), these parts could be used to replace any damaged components after the event.
  6. Emergency Kits: Regardless of the Carrington Event, keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle is a good practice. This kit should include non-electronic items that could be vital in a disaster, such as water, food supplies, a manual map, a first-aid kit, and basic tools.
  7. Regular Maintenance: Ensure your vehicle is well-maintained and any issues with the electrical system are addressed promptly. A well-maintained vehicle is less likely to have vulnerabilities that could be exacerbated by a geomagnetic storm.
  8. Insurance Check: Review your vehicle insurance policy to understand if it covers damage caused by electromagnetic events. While such coverage might be rare, it's worth exploring options with your insurance provider.

It's important to note that the direct impact of a Carrington Event on vehicles is somewhat speculative, given the rarity of such events and the varied designs of modern automotive electronics. The steps above are precautionary measures that can help mitigate potential risks to your vehicle in the event of severe geomagnetic storms.

The Faraday Cage

Layng: What exactly is a Faraday Cage?

Dr. Morrow: A Faraday cage is an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields. It works on the principle discovered by Michael Faraday, a 19th-century physicist, which is why it's named after him. The cage is typically made from a conductive material, such as metal mesh or sheets, and it operates by redistributing electromagnetic charges and fields around the exterior of the enclosure, effectively shielding the interior from external electric fields.

When electromagnetic radiation hits the surface of a Faraday cage, the charges within the cage's conductive material move to neutralize the field's effects inside the cage. This movement of charges creates a barrier that prevents the external electromagnetic field from penetrating through to the interior space. As a result, any electronic devices stored inside a Faraday cage are protected from electromagnetic interference (EMI), including high-energy pulses that could potentially damage or disrupt electronic circuits.

Faraday cages have a wide range of applications, from protecting sensitive electronic equipment from external interference to safeguarding against lightning strikes and even in shielding against electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) that could result from nuclear explosions or solar storms like the Carrington Event. They are used in various settings, including laboratories, industrial sites, and personal protective measures for electronic devices. The effectiveness of a Faraday cage in blocking electromagnetic fields depends on factors such as the material's conductivity, the size of the mesh or openings in the cage, and the strength of the external electromagnetic field.

Impact on Equipment in 1859

Layng: When The Carrington Event occurred, did it destroy equipment?

Dr. Morrow: No, the entire telegraph system did not have to be replaced following the Carrington Event. While the geomagnetic storm caused significant disruptions to telegraph operations, including equipment damage and operational anomalies, the impact varied by location and the extent of damage to the infrastructure.

The effects of the Carrington Event on telegraph systems were indeed dramatic, with reports of telegraph lines sparking, equipment malfunctioning, and operators receiving shocks. However, many of the issues encountered were temporary and could be resolved once the geomagnetic storm subsided. In some cases, repairs were needed for the damaged equipment, and sections of telegraph lines might have required maintenance to address issues caused by the induced electrical currents.

The resilience of the telegraph infrastructure, combined with the efforts of telegraph companies and operators, meant that the telegraph network was able to recover relatively quickly from the disturbances. The event did, however, highlight the vulnerability of electrical systems to solar storms, leading to increased awareness and eventually to improvements in the design and operation of telegraph and, later, electrical and communication systems to better withstand such events.

The Carrington Event serves as an early example of how space weather can impact technological systems, offering valuable lessons for the development and protection of modern infrastructure against similar incidents.

Introducing the Super EMP

Layng: Is a Carrington Event also known as a Super EMP?

Dr. Morrow: A Carrington Event and a Super Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) are related in that both involve electromagnetic disturbances, but they are caused by different phenomena and have distinct characteristics.

Carrington Event

  • Cause: A Carrington Event is caused by a massive solar storm, specifically a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun, which sends a stream of charged particles towards Earth. When these particles interact with Earth's magnetic field, they can induce geomagnetic storms.
  • Effects: The primary effects are on the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere, leading to geomagnetic disturbances. These disturbances can induce electrical currents in long conductors (like power lines), potentially damaging transformers and other electrical infrastructure. The Carrington Event of 1859 is the most notable historical example, affecting telegraph systems worldwide.
  • Scope: The effects are widespread, potentially impacting entire continents or even globally, but the impact level depends on the strength of the solar storm and the vulnerability of the infrastructure in place.

Super EMP

  • Cause: A Super EMP refers to an extremely high-intensity electromagnetic pulse, typically associated with a high-altitude nuclear explosion. When a nuclear device is detonated at a high altitude, it releases gamma rays that interact with the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, producing an EMP effect.
  • Effects: The EMP generated by a nuclear explosion can disrupt or damage electronic equipment and electrical infrastructure over a wide area. The strength and reach of the EMP depend on the altitude of the detonation and the yield of the nuclear device.
  • Scope: While potentially very destructive, the area affected by a Super EMP is generally smaller than that of a severe solar storm like the Carrington Event. However, the immediate impact on electronics and electrical systems can be more severe and indiscriminate.

In summary, while both a Carrington Event and a Super EMP involve electromagnetic disturbances with the potential to disrupt or damage technological systems, they originate from vastly different sources and have different characteristics and scopes of impact.

Super EMP Realistic Scenario

Layng: Can you give me a realistic scenario and sequence of events in which the United States could experience a Super EMP?

Dr. Morrow: A realistic scenario involving a Super EMP attack on the United States would encompass a sequence of events marked by rapid developments, significant challenges, and wide-ranging consequences. Here is how such a scenario could unfold:

Initial Phase: Launch and Detonation

  1. Launch: An adversarial nation or non-state actor covertly launches a ballistic missile equipped with a nuclear warhead. The missile is designed to reach a high-altitude above a strategically significant area of the United States, often considered to be the central continental United States to maximize impact on the electrical grid and communications infrastructure.
  2. Detonation: The warhead is detonated at a high altitude, optimally between 30 km (19 miles) and 400 km (250 miles) above the Earth's surface. This altitude is chosen to enhance the EMP effect, as the gamma rays released by the nuclear explosion interact with the Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field, generating intense electromagnetic pulses.

Immediate Effects: EMP Impact

  1. Electromagnetic Pulse: The EMP generated by the detonation consists of three components (E1, E2, and E3), each affecting different types of electrical and electronic infrastructure. The E1 component, occurring almost instantly, has the potential to destroy computers, communication systems, and electronic devices not shielded against EMP. The E2 component resembles lightning strike effects, which are generally well-guarded against in most infrastructure. The E3 component affects the power grid, potentially causing long-term outages by damaging transformers and other critical infrastructure.
  2. Infrastructure Failure: Within moments of the detonation, much of the electrical grid within the line of sight of the detonation site suffers catastrophic failures. This includes widespread blackouts, the failure of unprotected electronic devices, and the disruption of most communication systems. Critical infrastructure, including banking systems, transportation networks, and emergency services, begins to break down due to the loss of power and communications.

Secondary Phase: Cascading Effects

  1. Transportation and Supply Chain Disruption: The immediate loss of power and communication systems leads to the halt of transportation networks. Air traffic control systems go offline, grounding flights. Vehicles with modern electronic components may malfunction. Supply chains are disrupted, leading to shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies.
  2. Public Order and Safety Concerns: As the reality of the situation becomes apparent, public panic may ensue, leading to social unrest. The failure of emergency services to communicate and coordinate response efforts exacerbates the situation, making it difficult to maintain public order and provide assistance.
  3. Healthcare System Overload: Hospitals and healthcare facilities, relying on backup generators, face overwhelming demands with limited capacity. Electronic medical records and life-sustaining medical equipment become inoperative, further straining healthcare services.

Long-Term Recovery: Challenges and Rebuilding

  1. National Response and Recovery Efforts: The federal government, utilizing any remaining communication channels and military assets unaffected by the EMP, coordinates national response efforts. This includes declaring a state of emergency, mobilizing the National Guard, and seeking international aid.
  2. Infrastructure Repair and Restoration: Repairing the damaged electrical grid becomes a top priority. However, the replacement of damaged transformers and substations, particularly those affected by the E3 component, poses significant challenges due to their complexity and the time required for manufacturing and installation.
  3. Resilience and Rebuilding: The recovery from a Super EMP event would likely take years, with efforts focused on rebuilding the infrastructure, restoring public services, and developing more EMP-resistant technologies and systems to prevent future catastrophes.

A Super EMP scenario underscores the vulnerability of modern societies to electromagnetic events, highlighting the importance of preparedness, resilience planning, and the hardening of critical infrastructure against such existential threats.

The Threat of Super EMP via Adversarial Attack

Layng: How difficult would it be for an adversarial nation to successfully deploy and detonate a nuclear warhead at a high altitude above the central continental United States?

Dr. Morrow: Successfully deploying and detonating a nuclear warhead at a high altitude above the central continental United States by an adversarial nation would involve overcoming significant technical, logistical, and strategic challenges. The difficulty of such an operation can be broken down into several key areas:

Technical and Logistical Challenges

  1. Nuclear Capability: The adversary must possess nuclear weapons, which already limits the number of potential actors. Developing, testing, and maintaining a nuclear arsenal requires extensive resources, technology, and expertise.
  2. Delivery Systems: The ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to the desired altitude over the central U.S. necessitates an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or a similar long-range delivery system. Developing or acquiring such delivery systems, which must be reliable and capable of penetrating U.S. missile defenses, is a significant challenge.
  3. Launch Infrastructure: The adversary needs the infrastructure to launch such weapons, including launch platforms and the capability to do so without immediate detection or interception. This requires advanced technology and strategic planning.
  4. High-Altitude Detonation Expertise: Achieving the optimal altitude and timing for an EMP-generating detonation requires precise calculations and understanding of atmospheric and geomagnetic conditions. This level of expertise is non-trivial and adds to the operation's complexity.

Strategic and Geopolitical Challenges

  1. Detection and Retaliation: Launching a missile, especially an ICBM, would likely be detected by U.S. and allied early warning systems, leading to immediate strategic responses. The U.S. and its allies have sophisticated missile defense systems that could potentially intercept the missile before it reaches its target.
  2. Nuclear Deterrence: The principle of mutual assured destruction (MAD) acts as a deterrent against such attacks. Any nuclear attack on the U.S. would likely provoke a devastating retaliatory strike, making the initial attack a potentially suicidal act for the aggressor nation's leadership.
  3. International Condemnation and Isolation: Even planning or threatening such an attack would result in severe geopolitical consequences, including international condemnation, sanctions, and possibly collective military responses from the international community.
  4. Internal Factors: The decision to carry out an attack of this magnitude would also be influenced by the adversarial nation's internal politics, the stability of its regime, and the potential for internal dissent or rebellion in response to such drastic actions.

Given these considerations, while it is technically possible for a nation with sufficient nuclear and missile capabilities to attempt such an attack, the practical, strategic, and geopolitical barriers make it an exceedingly difficult and risky endeavor. The global security architecture, particularly the mechanisms of nuclear deterrence and international norms against the use of nuclear weapons, serves to significantly reduce the likelihood of such an event.

Super EMP Payload Requirement

Layng: What is the payload weight required to carry a nuclear warhead capable of a Super EMP?

Dr. Morrow: The payload weight required to carry a nuclear warhead capable of generating a Super Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) can vary significantly based on the design and yield of the warhead, as well as the desired altitude and coverage area of the EMP effect. Nuclear weapons technology has evolved to the point where relatively small and lightweight warheads can produce significant EMP effects, especially if they are optimized for this purpose rather than for maximum physical destruction.

Factors Influencing Payload Weight

  1. Warhead Yield: The energy yield of a nuclear weapon, typically measured in kilotons or megatons of TNT equivalent, is a key factor. However, for EMP effects, very high-yield warheads are not always necessary. Lower-yield nuclear devices, particularly those designed to enhance gamma ray production, can be effective in generating EMPs.
  2. Warhead Design: Some nuclear warheads are specifically designed or modified to maximize gamma ray output in the initial microseconds of detonation, which is crucial for the E1 component of an EMP. These design considerations can influence the weight of the warhead.
  3. Delivery System Capabilities: The choice of delivery system (e.g., ballistic missile, cruise missile) also impacts the required payload weight. Different systems have varying payload capacities, and the choice of system will depend on the distance to the target and the need to penetrate missile defenses.

Estimated Payload Weights

  • Compact Tactical Warheads: Modern nuclear powers have developed compact tactical nuclear warheads with weights as low as 100 kilograms (220 pounds) to several hundred kilograms, capable of being delivered by a range of missile systems.
  • Strategic Warheads: More typical strategic warheads, designed for ICBMs and capable of being adapted for enhanced EMP effects, might weigh between 300 to 800 kilograms (660 to 1,760 pounds). These warheads are designed for long-range delivery and would be capable of producing a Super EMP effect if detonated at high altitude.

It's important to note that the specific technical details of nuclear warhead designs, including their weights and yields, are often classified. However, open-source information and nuclear arms control disclosures provide some insight into the general capabilities of nuclear arsenals.

In summary, while the exact payload weight required for a Super EMP-capable nuclear warhead can vary, modern miniaturization and design optimization allow for relatively low-weight payloads to achieve significant EMP effects, especially when the warhead is detonated at an optimal altitude and configured to maximize gamma ray production.

The Chinese Spy Balloon

Layng: Tell me about the Chinese spy ballon that crossed the United States in February 2023.

In early February 2023, a Chinese spy balloon garnered significant attention as it traversed the airspace of the United States. This incident led to heightened tensions between the United States and China, bringing issues of sovereignty, espionage, and diplomatic relations into sharp focus. Here's an overview of the event and its implications:

Detection and Path

  • The balloon was detected entering U.S. airspace over the Aleutian Islands before moving across Alaska and Canada, eventually entering the continental United States. It traveled across several states, including Montana, where its presence was publicly acknowledged by the U.S. government. The path it took allowed it to potentially gather intelligence over sensitive military sites.

U.S. Government Response

  • The U.S. government closely monitored the balloon's journey, with the Pentagon identifying it as a high-altitude surveillance balloon. Despite calls for immediate action, the decision was made not to shoot it down over land due to concerns about the potential risk to people and property from falling debris.


  • The balloon was ultimately shot down by a U.S. Air Force fighter jet over the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of South Carolina, once it was over water to minimize risks to civilians. The operation to recover debris was launched to analyze the technology and potentially gather intelligence on its surveillance capabilities.

China's Stance

  • The Chinese government claimed that the balloon was a civilian airship used for meteorological research that had accidentally strayed into U.S. airspace. China criticized the U.S. for its response, arguing that shooting down the balloon was an overreaction and harmed relations between the two countries.

Diplomatic and Security Repercussions

  • The incident led to a significant diplomatic fallout, including the cancellation of a planned trip to China by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. It highlighted concerns about surveillance, the militarization of civilian technology, and the broader strategic rivalry between the United States and China.

Broader Context

  • The spy balloon incident occurred within a larger context of increasing tensions between the U.S. and China over issues like trade, human rights, territorial claims, and technological competition. It also raised awareness and concerns about the use of aerial surveillance technologies and the need for enhanced detection and response mechanisms.

The Chinese spy balloon incident of February 2023 serves as a notable example of the complex interplay between national security, international diplomacy, and technological capabilities in the modern era. It underscores the challenges faced by nations in safeguarding their airspace and sensitive information in an increasingly contested global environment.

Can a Balloon Be Used to Create a Super EMP?

Layng: Could this Chinese balloon conceivably have been carrying a nuclear warhead intended to create a Super EMP?

Dr. Morrow: The scenario of a surveillance balloon, like the one identified as crossing the United States in February 2023, being used to carry a nuclear warhead to create a Super EMP is highly unlikely for several reasons:

Technical and Physical Limitations

  • Payload Capacity: Surveillance balloons are designed for lightweight payloads focused on surveillance and data collection, typically carrying cameras, sensors, and communication equipment. The payload capacity of such balloons is much lower than required to carry a nuclear warhead, which, even in its most miniaturized form, would be significantly heavier than the equipment usually deployed on these balloons.
  • Stability and Control: Balloons do not offer the stable platform or precise control necessary for deploying weapons, especially for an application as sensitive as detonating a nuclear device at a specific altitude to maximize EMP effects. Ballistic missiles, in contrast, are engineered to deliver warheads to precise locations with controlled detonation timing.

Strategic and Diplomatic Considerations

  • International Norms and Agreements: The use of a balloon for such a purpose would be a blatant violation of international norms and several treaties, including those concerning the use of nuclear weapons and the peaceful use of airspace. Such an act would have severe diplomatic and military repercussions.
  • Visibility and Response Time: A balloon's slow and predictable path makes it visible to radar and satellite monitoring systems for extended periods, allowing ample time for detection and interception by the targeted country. This visibility would negate the element of surprise, which is critical for strategic military operations, especially involving nuclear weapons.

Geopolitical Implications

  • Escalation Risk: Deploying a nuclear warhead in such a manner would be an act of war with catastrophic implications. It would lead to a severe military response and potentially escalate into a broader conflict. The strategic calculus of nuclear-armed states typically aims to avoid direct actions that could lead to mutual destruction.
  • Counterproductive for Espionage: The primary purpose of surveillance balloons is to collect intelligence discreetly. Using one as a delivery mechanism for a nuclear attack would undermine its espionage value and expose the deploying nation to international condemnation and retaliation.

In summary, while it's technically possible to imagine a wide range of scenarios in the realm of military and espionage tactics, the use of a surveillance balloon to carry and detonate a nuclear warhead for a Super EMP effect is highly implausible due to the technical, strategic, and geopolitical realities governing the use of such technologies and weapons.

Chinese Spy Balloon Payload Capacity

Layng: What was the payload capacity of the Chinese spy balloon?

Dr. Morrow: The specific payload capacity of the Chinese spy balloon that traversed U.S. airspace in February 2023 was not publicly disclosed by either the Chinese government or U.S. officials. Details about the balloon's design, capabilities, and intended use were largely kept confidential, and much of the information released to the public focused on its surveillance potential rather than its physical specifications.

In general, high-altitude balloons used for surveillance or research purposes can carry payloads ranging from a few kilograms to several hundred kilograms, depending on their size, design, and the technology used. These payloads typically include cameras, sensors, and communication equipment designed to collect and transmit data. The primary focus of such balloons is on lightweight and efficient designs to maximize altitude and endurance while carrying the necessary equipment for their mission.

Given the nature of the incident and the focus on national security, specific details about the payload capacity of the Chinese spy balloon might not be readily available or accurately known outside of classified intelligence assessments. The discussion in public domains has centered more on the implications of its presence over U.S. territory and the broader context of international relations and espionage activities.

How Much Payload Is Required?

Layng: Several hundred kilograms is enough to carry a nuclear warhead, isn't it?

Dr. Morrow: Yes, several hundred kilograms is within the range necessary to carry a modern nuclear warhead. The weight of nuclear warheads can vary significantly depending on their design, yield, and the technology used. Modern miniaturized nuclear warheads, especially tactical nuclear weapons, can weigh as little as a few hundred kilograms.

For context, historical examples like the W80 warhead, used in cruise missiles, have a weight in the range of around 130 kilograms (about 290 pounds). More strategic warheads, designed for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are heavier but still within a range that could conceivably be supported by a payload capacity of several hundred kilograms.

However, it's important to distinguish between the theoretical capability to carry such a weight and the practical, strategic, and legal implications of doing so. The use of balloons for deploying nuclear weapons would be highly unconventional and fraught with challenges, including control over detonation altitude and timing, vulnerability to interception, and the clear violation of international laws and norms against the militarization of space and the use of nuclear weapons. Moreover, any attempt by a state to deploy a nuclear weapon in such a manner would have grave diplomatic and military repercussions, including potential retaliatory strikes and severe international condemnation.

While the payload capacity of the Chinese spy balloon might technically allow for carrying a small nuclear warhead, the practical likelihood of a state choosing such a method for a nuclear attack is extremely low due to these strategic, operational, and legal constraints.

Identifying Party Responsible for Balloon

Layng: How would the United States be able to identify who is responsible for the balloon?

Dr. Morrow: The United States can identify the responsible party for a balloon, such as the Chinese spy balloon incident, through a combination of technical, intelligence, and forensic methods. Here's how the process generally works:

Technical Analysis

  • Radar and Satellite Tracking: The U.S. uses radar and satellite systems to track airborne objects. The trajectory and origin of a balloon can be analyzed to trace its path back to its likely launch point.
  • Surveillance and Intelligence: Signals intelligence (SIGINT), including intercepted communications and electronic signals from the balloon, can provide clues about its origin and purpose. The U.S. has extensive capabilities in this area.

Forensic Examination

  • Recovery and Analysis of Debris: After the balloon is intercepted or recovered, forensic analysis of the debris can offer significant insights. Materials, manufacturing techniques, and any electronic or sensor payloads can be traced back to their source with varying degrees of precision.
  • Payload Examination: The specific components and technology used in the balloon's payload can be analyzed to identify unique characteristics that may link it to a particular country or manufacturer. This might include cameras, sensors, and communication equipment.

Intelligence and Counterintelligence Activities

  • Human Intelligence (HUMINT): Information from spies, informants, or defectors can provide insights into the operations and capabilities of foreign intelligence services, including their use of surveillance balloons.
  • Cyber Intelligence: Cyber espionage efforts can uncover digital footprints related to the planning, launch, and control of espionage balloons.

Diplomatic Channels

  • Direct Accusations or Inquiries: The U.S. might confront the suspected country through diplomatic channels, possibly leading to admissions, denials, or obfuscations that can nevertheless inform further analysis.
  • International Cooperation: The U.S. might also work with allies and partners to gather additional intelligence or corroborate findings, especially if the balloon traversed or affected other nations' airspace.

Public and Open-Source Information

  • Media and Academic Reports: Sometimes, the responsible party might claim the balloon for propaganda purposes, or investigative journalism and academic research can uncover relevant information.

The identification process combines these methods to build a comprehensive understanding of the balloon's origin, purpose, and the responsible party. In the case of the Chinese spy balloon, the U.S. government publicly attributed it to China based on a combination of these factors, suggesting a high degree of confidence in their assessment. Such incidents are handled with sensitivity due to their potential impact on international relations and national security.

Assessment of "Spy Balloon" Relation to Super EMP Threat

Layng: So you don't think any of the balloons that have been discovered floating over the United States have anything to do with the possibility of a Super EMP attack?

Dr. Morrow: Based on publicly available information and considering the technical, strategic, and geopolitical factors involved, it's highly unlikely that the balloons discovered floating over the United States, including the Chinese spy balloon incident in early 2023, were related to the possibility of a Super Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack. Here are several key reasons why this is the case:

Technical Considerations

  • Payload Limitations: While high-altitude balloons can carry payloads of several hundred kilograms, a nuclear device optimized for a Super EMP effect, along with the necessary delivery and detonation mechanisms, would likely exceed the capabilities of such balloons, especially if discreet surveillance is the primary goal.
  • Control and Precision: Delivering a nuclear EMP requires precise control over the detonation altitude and timing to maximize the EMP's effect. Balloons offer far less control and predictability compared to missile systems, making them unsuitable for such a critical requirement.

Strategic and Geopolitical Factors

  • Visibility and Response Time: Balloons are relatively slow-moving and can be tracked across vast distances, providing ample time for detection, interception, and countermeasures. This visibility makes them impractical for a surprise attack strategy, which would be essential for a successful EMP strike.
  • Diplomatic Repercussions: The use of a balloon for an EMP attack would be considered an act of war and have severe diplomatic and military repercussions. Such an action would almost certainly provoke a strong retaliatory response and international condemnation, factors that states consider heavily in their strategic calculations.

Historical Context

  • Surveillance Purposes: The known uses of balloons by various countries, including the United States and China, have primarily been for weather observation, scientific research, and surveillance. These activities align with the capabilities and limitations of balloon technology, rather than offensive military operations like a Super EMP attack.

In summary, while it's important to assess and understand the full range of potential threats to national security, the use of high-altitude balloons for a Super EMP attack appears highly improbable based on current technological, strategic, and geopolitical understandings. The incidents involving balloons over the U.S. are more consistent with surveillance activities, which, while concerning in their own right, do not suggest an imminent threat of a Super EMP attack via this method.

Clarification of Projected Impact

Layng: Is it true that there is a study showing that 90% of the U.S. population would be dead within a year if there is a Carrington Event in the United States today?

Dr. Morrow: The figure you mentioned, often cited in discussions about the potential impact of a severe electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event, like a Carrington Event, on modern society, actually originates from concerns about high-altitude nuclear EMP attacks rather than solar storms specifically. This estimate comes from the Congressional EMP Commission reports, which examined the vulnerabilities of the U.S. electrical grid and other critical infrastructures to EMP events, including those caused by nuclear weapons and solar storms.

The concern is that a widespread and prolonged blackout, resulting from the failure of the electrical grid and critical infrastructures, could lead to catastrophic consequences for society, including the failure of food and water distribution, healthcare, and transportation systems. The 90% mortality figure is based on the cascading effects of these failures over a year without power and the societal breakdown that might follow.

However, it's important to differentiate between the specific causes of an EMP. A Carrington-like solar event, while potentially causing significant disruption to power grids and electronics, differs in several respects from a nuclear EMP in terms of its geographical impact, duration, and the types of electronics affected. Solar storms primarily impact long conductive systems, like power lines and pipelines, and are less likely to directly damage small electronics not connected to the grid.

While the risk of severe societal disruption from a massive solar storm is real, the exact outcomes would depend on various factors, including the storm's intensity, the resilience of current infrastructure, and the effectiveness of emergency response measures. Efforts to harden the electrical grid and improve emergency preparedness could significantly mitigate these risks.

Impact on Small Electronics

Layng: So you're saying a nuclear EMP attack would affect small electronics not connected to the grid?

Dr. Morrow: Yes, that's correct. A nuclear EMP attack, particularly a high-altitude nuclear explosion, generates a powerful electromagnetic pulse that can affect both grid-connected and non-grid-connected electronics. The EMP from a nuclear detonation is composed of three components: E1, E2, and E3.

  • The E1 component is a fast, high-intensity pulse that can induce high voltages in electronic systems, potentially damaging integrated circuits and electronic components in devices not connected to the grid, such as smartphones, portable radios, and vehicles' control systems.
  • The E2 component is similar to lightning in its effect, and while it can cause damage, most modern infrastructure is somewhat protected against this type of pulse due to standard lightning protection measures.
  • The E3 component is a slower pulse that affects the power grid and long conductive lines, similar to the effects of a solar geomagnetic storm, but it's less likely to directly harm small, standalone electronics.

In contrast, a solar geomagnetic storm, like a Carrington Event, primarily impacts long-line electrical networks and is less likely to directly damage small electronics not connected to the grid. The key difference lies in the nature of the E1 component unique to nuclear EMPs, which poses a direct threat to a wide range of electronic equipment regardless of their connection to the power grid.

More Clarification on Risk Assessment

Layng: You say there's a 1%-2% annual risk of a Carrington-like event. How is that figure calculated exactly? How do we know if it is a 100 year event or a 1000 year event? And if there is a 1%-2% annual risk of this event occurring, and there has been no such event for nearly 175 years, does that increase our risk?

Dr. Morrow: The 1%-2% annual risk figure for a Carrington-like event is derived from historical data analysis and statistical modeling of solar storm occurrences. Researchers study records of geomagnetic storms, both from direct observations in the modern era and from indirect evidence like ice core samples and tree rings, which can indicate solar activity over longer periods.

Calculation Method:

  • Historical Data: Scientists examine the frequency and intensity of past solar storms, including the Carrington Event and others, to estimate the recurrence rate of such extreme events.
  • Statistical Modeling: Using statistical methods, these historical data points are analyzed to estimate the probability of similar events occurring in any given year.

Determining the Event Frequency:

  • Extrapolation: By extrapolating from the observed data, scientists can estimate whether a Carrington-like event is a 100-year event, a 500-year event, etc. This involves understanding not just the biggest events but also the distribution of smaller but significant events.
  • Uncertainty: It's important to note that there is a degree of uncertainty in these estimates, given the limited historical record and the complex nature of solar activity.

Increased Risk Over Time:

  • Risk Accumulation: If there's a 1%-2% chance of such an event occurring in any given year, the risk is statistically independent each year, meaning past years without an event don't directly increase the likelihood of it happening in the current year.
  • Preparedness Implication: However, the longer we go without experiencing a significant solar storm, the more our society advances technologically, potentially increasing our vulnerability due to our greater reliance on electronic and digital infrastructure.


While the annual risk percentage provides a useful guideline for preparedness planning, the exact timing of such events remains unpredictable. The focus thus remains on enhancing our resilience to and preparedness for extreme space weather events, regardless of their precise frequency.

Super EMP Annual Risk Figure

Layng: What is the annual risk figure for a nuclear EMP attack from an adversary?

Dr. Morrow: The annual risk figure for a nuclear EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) attack from an adversary is not quantifiable in the same statistical terms as natural events like solar storms. Unlike natural phenomena, which can be studied through historical data and physical models to estimate probabilities, the risk of a nuclear EMP attack is influenced by a complex interplay of geopolitical factors, national security policies, technological advancements, and international relations.

Factors Influencing Risk Assessment:

  1. Geopolitical Stability: The stability of international relations and the presence of conflicts or tensions between nations can influence the risk.
  2. Nuclear Capabilities: The proliferation of nuclear weapons and the technological capability to deliver an EMP attack impact the assessment.
  3. National Defense Policies: Defensive measures, deterrence strategies, and diplomatic efforts aimed at nuclear non-proliferation also play a critical role.
  4. Intent and Decision-making: The intentions of potential adversaries and their decision-making processes are unpredictable and highly variable.

Risk Management Approach:

Given the unpredictability and the strategic nature of such threats, risk management typically involves:

  • Surveillance and Intelligence: Monitoring potential threats and gathering intelligence on adversaries' capabilities and intentions.
  • Deterrence: Maintaining a credible deterrent posture to discourage adversaries from considering an EMP attack.
  • Defense and Mitigation: Developing and implementing technologies and strategies to protect critical infrastructure against the effects of an EMP.
  • International Cooperation: Engaging in diplomacy and international treaties aimed at reducing nuclear risks and promoting stability.


While it's challenging to assign a specific annual risk percentage to the possibility of a nuclear EMP attack, continuous assessment of the geopolitical landscape and advancements in technology are essential for national security planning. The focus remains on prevention, preparedness, and resilience to mitigate the potential impact of such an event.

Feasibility of Scenario Presented by Dennis Quaid

Layng: In a recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Dennis Quaid discussed the possibility of a terrorist group using a "suitcase" sized dirty bomb in a highly specific scenario. He suggested that such a bomb could be mounted on a SCUD missile aboard a cargo ship just off the U.S. coast. By launching the missile to detonate 400 kilometers above the United States, he theorized it could unleash a Super EMP. According to Quaid, this explosion in space would generate gamma rays, covering a vast majority of the USA. How feasible is this scenario?

Dr. Morrow: The scenario Dennis Quaid described, while intriguing, involves several complex elements that significantly challenge its feasibility:

  1. SCUD Missile Capabilities: SCUD missiles are relatively old technology with limited range and payload capacity. Achieving an altitude of 400 kilometers, necessary for the described Super EMP effect, exceeds the capabilities of typical SCUD missiles, which are designed for shorter-range, lower-altitude engagements.
  2. "Suitcase" Sized Dirty Bomb and EMP Effects: A "suitcase" sized dirty bomb typically refers to a conventional explosive combined with radioactive materials aimed at spreading radiological contamination rather than generating an EMP. For an EMP, especially one of a "Super" magnitude affecting most of the USA, a nuclear detonation is required. The gamma rays crucial for a significant EMP effect come from nuclear explosions, not dirty bombs.
  3. Launching from a Cargo Ship: While launching a missile from a cargo ship is theoretically possible, it presents substantial technical and logistical challenges. Such an operation would likely be detected by the United States' extensive surveillance and missile defense systems, designed to track and neutralize incoming ballistic missile threats.
  4. Detection and Interception: The United States maintains a sophisticated missile defense system capable of detecting launches and intercepting missiles in flight. A launch from just off the coast would be quickly identified, and countermeasures would likely be deployed long before the missile reached the intended altitude.
  5. International and Domestic Security Measures: Cargo ships near U.S. waters are subject to scrutiny and monitoring. A terrorist organization attempting to mount and launch a missile in this manner would have to evade both international maritime security protocols and U.S. defensive measures, a highly challenging endeavor.

In essence, while the scenario taps into legitimate concerns about EMP threats and national security, the specific details—particularly the use of a "suitcase" sized dirty bomb on a SCUD missile for a high-altitude detonation—render it highly implausible with current technologies and security measures. The real focus for EMP preparedness involves state actors with advanced ballistic missile capabilities, not the scenario described.

Summary and Conclusion

Layng: Thank you for your time. In conclusion, could you summarize this threat to our national security and the steps that would be prudent to be taken to be prepared for such an event?

Dr. Morrow: Certainly. Both a Carrington-like solar geomagnetic storm and a nuclear EMP attack represent significant threats to national security due to their potential to disrupt or destroy critical infrastructure, including the electrical grid, communication networks, and transportation systems. The primary differences between the two lie in their mechanisms and the breadth of electronics affected, with nuclear EMPs posing a direct threat to both grid-connected and standalone electronics, while solar storms primarily impact large-scale electrical systems.

To prepare for and mitigate the risks associated with these events, several steps are prudent:

  1. Grid Hardening and Resilience Building: Enhancing the resilience of the electrical grid to withstand EMP effects, including both solar and nuclear origins, is crucial. This can involve installing protective devices, creating redundancies, and ensuring rapid repair capabilities.
  2. Critical Infrastructure Protection: Beyond the electrical grid, other critical infrastructure sectors—such as water supply, healthcare, and transportation—require hardening against EMP effects. This includes implementing EMP-protective technologies and backup systems.
  3. Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning: Developing comprehensive emergency response plans that can be activated in the event of an EMP incident is essential. These plans should include contingencies for prolonged power outages, communication breakdowns, and supply chain disruptions.
  4. Public Awareness and Education: Educating the public and private sectors about the risks and preparedness measures for EMP events can enhance community resilience and response capabilities.
  5. Research and Development: Investing in ongoing research into EMP effects and protective technologies can lead to more effective mitigation strategies and innovations in infrastructure design.
  6. International Cooperation: Given the potential global impact of a severe space weather event, international cooperation in space weather monitoring, forecasting, and response planning is vital.

By addressing these areas, we can significantly reduce the vulnerability of our national infrastructure to EMP events and enhance our ability to respond and recover from their impacts, safeguarding national security and public safety.

Further Research

Grid Down, Power Up investigates and follows the trail of information surrounding threats that the US national power grid faces right now.
carrington eventsuper empelectromagnet pulsenuclear weaponselectrical gridunited statessolar flare


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