Could North Korea actually defeat the U.S.?

Kim Jong Un with a reported hydrogen bomb. (Reuters pix via WSJ)

Decades ago while I was writing about the threat of a nuclear attack on the nearby Strategic Command Air Force base, my managing editor informed me who would be the unlucky ones in that eventually: Those who would look up and ask: What was that?

The threat then was the Soviet Union. Now North Korea has openly stated the possibility of attacking the U.S. with a single nuclear weapon at high altitude that could destroy much of this country’s electronic infrastructure.

The Wall Street Journal reports that North Korea’s state news agency on Sunday morning, after detonating another nuclear weapon test, specifically stated that it has “a multifunctional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP attack.” EMP is an electromagnetic pulse that could cripple the power grid and destroy electronics that allow water to be pumped, food to be refrigerated, banking accounts to be accessed, fuel pumping, communications, electronics in many vehicles and so much more.

How big a threat is EMP? One report from a couple of years ago estimated as much as 90 percent of the population of the U.S. might die from starvation, disease and social tumult after such an attack.

In a 2015 newspaper column I wrote about what was being done to protect the country from such an attack. The answer: Virtually nothing. Because our “leaders” deemed global warming the biggest threat to mankind.

A year a ago I again wrote about the impact of an EMP attack.

In December I wrote about how Nevada could play a role in defense efforts. And there are a half dozen other blogs posted here about EMP.

The cost to harden the power grid against EMP has been placed at somewhere between a half a billion dollars and a couple of billion. Washington spends three times that in one minute.

12 comments on “Could North Korea actually defeat the U.S.?

  1. Bruce Feher says:

    Come on Tom! The average bear is to busy worrying about American Idol and other assorted POP Crab to give a rat’s ass about EMP and our esteemed public officials know this! Who cares? Yawn, UNTIL it happens!

  2. Of course, you are correct.

  3. deleted says:

    Thomas, from Edison Electric “Myths vs Facts”

    Most importantly, I would imagine to a conservative, is that the claimed cost, is nonsense, and I have to say I’m surprised that you even feign a belief in the government accomplishing anything, much less something big, like this, for even 10 times what they claim they can do it for. Luckily, it’s not the government claiming they can do anything for this price, it’s an advocacy group set up to benefit if the government decides to do it; go figure.

    The “true” cost is unknown, but educated guesses are that it will cost in excess of 10s of times more, to accomplish not much.

    Click to access Electromagnetic%20Pulses%20(EMPs)%20-%20Myths%20vs.%20Facts.pdf

  4. Nah, $20 billion to save 90 percent of the population, not worth it.

    But $8 billion for Houston hurricane relief is worth it.

  5. deleted says:

    Well I think the point is first that the cost is unknown, but to just harden a very small part of the electrical grid, would cost at least that much, but government you know and all.

    And, you know, 20 billion here, 20 billion there, eventually it adds up to real money.

  6. Rincon says:

    From Wikipedia: “Misleading or incorrect information about such weapons, both real and fictional, have become known to the public by means of popular culture and some politicians’ claims. Misleading information includes both exaggeration of EMP effects and downplaying the significance of the EMP threat.[1][2][3][4]” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_pulse#Nuclear_.28NEMP.29_and_high_altitude_nuclear_.28HEMP.29

    The word from Oak Ridge: “Some general emphasis of comments fall into either “the world as we know it will come to an end” if there is a high altitude nuclear burst, or the other extreme: “it’s
    not a big deal, nothing much will happen”. Since we really have never had a nuclear
    burst over anything like our current modern infrastructure, no one really knows for sure
    what would happen, but both extremes are not very believable.”

    As with global warming, you appear to be an extremist, but it’s simple enough to sort out. As Conservatives say about global warming, show me absolute proof of the threat and the exact likelihood. Since that cannot be done, we should treat EMP in exactly the same way as we treat global warming. https://www.ferc.gov/industries/electric/indus-act/reliability/cybersecurity/ferc_meta-r-320.pdf (from the appendix).

  7. A 1962 air burst nuke disrupted electronics in Hawaii, 800 miles away.

  8. Steve says:

    Also of worthy note is our military electronics.
    All of this equipment is and has been, built to withstand EMP ever since the effects were first understood for what they are. And we are building our own EMP weapons today.
    EMP is well known in military circles. There are some publications on the WEB such ones about CHAMP which uses non nuclear generator to create RF pulses that can be pinpointed rather than generalized in their effects. The Army has EMP bullets under developement, again with no nuclear explosion needed.
    do your own googling, this stuff is interesting and easy to find.

    Additionally, all recently constructed data centers (such as Switch) are in buildings that are basically faraday cages. Totally EMP proofed. You see, solar storms can have the same effect on CMOS electronics.
    here’s a freebee for you link lusters.
    https://www.computerworld.com/article/2606378/new-data-center-protects-against-solar-storms-and-nuclear-emps.html

  9. Rincon says:

    I looked up the Hawaii event in 1962 and found that, although electrical power and telephone service were disrupted, there was no mention of these being long term problems, despite the 1.4 megaton size of the warhead. Seems that if the entire islands’ electrical and telephone systems were mortally damaged, the outage of service should have lasted several days at the very least. The articles didn’t mention death and destruction in Hawaii that day. Am I missing something?

  10. Steve says:

    CMOS microprocessors did not exist in 1962, Rincon.
    Today, CMOS runs everything.

    that is what you are missing

  11. Athos says:

    Don’t bother us, Tom. We got too many statues to bring down!

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