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Adressing the Super-EMP and other Electromagnetic Weapon threat through technologies and countermeasures

The electromagnetic pulse commonly abbreviated as EMP, is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy caused by the rapid acceleration of charged particles, can be produced by intense solar storms or by a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere. For example, solar geomagnetic storms (geomagnetic disturbances or GMD) create immediate and intense current surges that may disrupt electrical and electronic systems, potentially on a continental scale.


“Detonation of a single generic nuclear bomb between 30-400 kilometers above earth will create an EMP that propagates outward towards earth with a radius of between 600 and 2,200 kilometers,” he wrote. According to the congressional, study, an EMP bomb causes dangerous effects within its entire field.” The oxygen and nitrogen atoms collide with the radiation waves in the air to generate a strong electromagnetic pulse.


HEMP can result in field strength of about 50,000 volts per metre depending on factors like altitude of the detonation, energy yield, gamma ray output, interactions with the Earth’s magnetic field and electromagnetic shielding of targets. The resulting rapidly changes electric and magnetic fields may couple with electrical/electronic systems to produce damaging current and voltage surges. Very low-frequency pulses can cause electrical current to flow in the miles-long, elevated transmission lines that carry electrical power across the country. Those pulses can also penetrate the ground and create currents in buried pipes. Such currents are called geomagnetically induced currents (GICs), and their strength is directly related to the electrical properties of the earth beneath the lines or above the pipes because different types of soil and rock can be either electricity conductors or insulators.


As the U.S. Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack points out, “the physical and social fabric of the United States is sustained by a system of systems – a complex and dynamic network of interlocking and interdependent infrastructures whose harmonious functioning enables the myriad actions, transactions, and information flow that undergird the orderly conduct of civil society.”


The nuclear bombs being developed, according to the report, could take out all electronics, ranging from computers and cell phones to entire electric grids, over several hundred miles.  “A single nuclear weapon can potentially make an EMP attack against a target the size of North America,” the report reads. Super-EMP weapon would have low-yield, because it is not designed to create a big explosion, but to convert its energy into gamma rays, that generate the EMP effect.


The study predicted that impact of EMP-induced industrial accidents can cause explosions and extensive fires. The toxic clouds formed due to the explosion of chemical plants can polluted air, water, and earth. Hence, without pure air and water, people will not be able to survive for long. The study says: “In one year, as some EMP experts have warned for over a decade, 9 of 10 Americans are dead from starvation, disease, and societal collapse”. It would be an unimaginable situation when a nuclear aggressor will deploy EMP bombs: Russia striking Europe; China targeting Taiwan; Iran targeting the Middle East, and North Korea targeting Japan.


Our vulnerability to EMP attacks is also growing  because of our increased its reliance on technologies that depend upon the availability of electricity and digital electronics to manage and monitor the network of systems that deliver our basic goods and services.””Our system for generating and distributing electricity is the core of this network. Failure here could cascade across other vital national infrastructures such as: telecommunications, transportation, banking, critical medical care, and water filtration and pumping. This could severely disrupt everything we take for granted, from food and water distribution to functioning sewer, medical, healthcare and banking systems, “says the report.


Some analysts and experts who participated in a 2018 Air Force-led conference on the topic walked away concluding that the U.S. military is utterly unprepared for or equipped to prevent an EMP attack. The military is not training for an EMP attack or its aftermath, adequately if at all. Our troops would not have essential communications (although the military reportedly is now working on this) or any means of command and control. There are no military base-level emergency plans to provide food, fuel, shelter or other essential needs after an EMP event — whether an enemy’s attack or a natural occurrence — nor any plans to provide for America’s civilian population that would be left, literally, in the dark.


Addressing the EMP threat

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on “Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses” in March 2019 after he recognized the growing threat EMPs pose to the nation. “An electromagnetic pulse has the potential to disrupt, degrade, and damage technology and critical infrastructure systems,” the order stated. “Human-made or naturally occurring EMPs can affect large geographic areas, disrupting elements critical to the nation’s security and economic prosperity and could adversely affect global commerce and stability. The federal government must foster sustainable, efficient and cost-effective approaches to improving the nation’s resilience to the effects of EMPs.” The latest defense authorization bill signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 2020 contains new measures requiring the federal government to protect the nation from the danger of nuclear-blast-produced electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks and similar solar-produced electronic disruptions.


To that end, the president directed the National Security Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science and Technology Council, and the Secretaries of Defense, Commerce, and Homeland Security “to prepare for the effects of EMPs through targeted approaches that coordinate whole-of-government activities and encourage private-sector engagement.


The Pentagon is tasked under the law with conducting research on the impact of EMP attacks on critical infrastructure. “The federal government must provide warning of an impending EMP; protect against, respond to, and recover from the effects of an EMP through public and private engagement, planning, and investment; and prevent adversarial events through deterrence, defense, and nuclear non-proliferation efforts. To achieve these goals, the federal government shall engage in risk-informed planning, prioritize research and development (R&D) to address the needs of critical infrastructure stake holders, and, for adversarial threats, consult intelligence community assessments.


“To implement the actions directed in this order, the federal government shall promote collaboration and facilitate information sharing, including the sharing of threat and vulnerability assessments, among executive departments and agencies, the owners and operators of critical infrastructure and other relevant stake holders, as appropriate,: the president’s statement continues. “The federal government shall also provide incentives, as appropriate, to private-sector partners to encourage innovation that strengthens critical infrastructure against the effects of EMPs through the development and implementation of best practices, regulations and appropriate guidance.”


For the first time, the president’s executive order brings all high-power electromagnetic weapon developers and targets together to speed development of defenses and methods of recovery. While this new coordinated defensive effort aimed at natural and man-made electromagnetics is underway, the military also is accelerating its efforts to develop offensive and defensive electromagnetic technologies.


JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy report: “Addressing Electromagnetic Threats to U.S. Critical Infrastructure” recommends, “With regard to EMP attacks, which are man-made, we reaffirm the basic, three-component strategy: deterrence, active defense and improving the resilience of U.S. infrastructures and society.”


They recommend EM-specific deterrence, “A clear U.S. declaratory statement that the United States will retaliate after any EMP attack in a manner that would overwhelm whatever value the opponent might anticipate gaining from such an attack is an important component of a multi-pronged strategy. ”


“The construction of smart grids can ensure that we can have a more complete picture of the grid, including during catastrophes or major attacks. This becomes possible if smart-grid components are required to be survivable. The replacement of outdated systems with these and other advancements provides an opportunity to build EM protection into the grid, without the larger expense of retrofit protection.”


Reducing Vulnerabilities to EM Attack

The Pentagon also will conduct intelligence assessments every four years into EMP and solar storm threats, with the first assessment mandated for completion by March 2020 , and produce reports to Congress every four years on the use of technological steps that can be used to harden infrastructure from electromagnetic disturbances.


“Vulnerabilities to EM attacks and natural EM events can be reduced by hardening the electric grid and the electronic infrastructures, and by executing smart shutdowns on warning of the power grid and other elements of the infrastructure. In both cases, this will require smart reconstitution after an event, “says JINSA’s Gemunder Center Report


“Rather than pursuing a comprehensive program of hardening all critical infrastructure elements, policymakers should adopt a program to gradually but steadily increase EM protections over the long term, once they identify and address the most important elements needed for societal functionality.”


“With sufficient warning, the degradation of the technical functionality of the grid can be reduced, perhaps substantially.” “The source of a major GMD event can be seen and identified many hours ahead of time, though precise determination of whether or not the Earth will be impacted can occur only within 30-45 minutes prior to the disturbance. Warning, if any, for an EMP attack would be much shorter.” “The appropriate authorities should use existing detection, warning, communication and response processes and systems to allow them to use any advance warning of an impending EM event.”


“The tools, technical skills and operational expertise needed to quickly identify damaged elements and take action to mitigate the functional impact of this damage, must be identified and made an intrinsic component of infrastructure contingency planning.”


“The United States needs to expand research to identify priorities for protecting and hardening the electrical infrastructure. This research should address three main objectives.” “First, the United States must quickly develop a more extensive program of experimentation and analysis to better understand technical problems and societal priorities and possible fixes for them. Second, it must construct a more comprehensive set of models of the functionality of the grid in extreme EM environments, and the relation between infrastructure function and societal functionality. Third, the United States must improve capabilities and readiness to record, share and use data from natural EM events to support modeling and analysis.”


“We recommend the Congress mandate that DHS plan for and lead a regular national preparedness exercise to coordinate the response to an EM event. Other federal agencies, local governments and the private sector should be involved.”


NuScale, out of Oregon, has made their reactor resistant to electromagnetic pulses (EMP)

NuScale’s SMR is already the most resilient, reliable and flexible of any energy source in history, with Black-Start Capability, Island Mode and First Responder Power, without needing external grid connections, capable of withstanding earthquakes, category 5 hurricanes and F5 tornados, planes crashing into it, floods, and cyberattacks. Now it has added EMP threats and geomagnetic disturbances.


Fortunately, NuScale is the first SMR company to file a license and design certification application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it is the first one to have the NRC complete their Phase 1 review – in record time. So the first unit should roll out in only a few years.


NuScale evaluated support systems of their SMR as either likely vulnerable or inherently resilient to an EMP. The evaluation involved a qualitative vulnerability assessment of above and below ground subsystems, including communications, controls, switches, transformers and machinery within the SMR with special attention to the nuclear plant’s ability to safely shut down and the potential to provide continuous power during and after exposure to an EMP pulse.


Several design features allow the SMR to withstand an EMP attack. There are no safety-related electrical loads, including pumps and electric motor-operated safety valves. Because natural convective core heat removal is used, electrically-operated pumps are not needed to circulate coolant. This means that, if necessary, the reactor can shut down and cool itself for indefinite periods without the need for human intervention, adding water, or external electrical power. So the inherent safety of the reactor is impervious to an EMP and can’t melt-down due to an event.


But just being safe isn’t good enough. It would be great to be able to start up right away or, better yet, keep operating right through the event, so that power is available to mitigate, recover and respond to the worst of attack.


The SMR can go into Island Mode operation, not requiring a connection to the grid to provide electrical power, and allowing for a rapid recovery to full power following the event. The reactor modules can keep safely running and go into stand-by mode such that they can be rapidly put back into service. Also, safety-related systems are electrically-isolated from the main plant electrical system, and all sensor cables penetrate the reactor containment vessel at a single location (containment vessel top plate), thereby reducing the EMP pathway.


In addition, the reactor building provides effective electric shielding of EMPs by being several-foot thick concrete walls laced with steel rebar, effectively making it into a Faraday Cage, which is an enclosure or structure that can block an electromagnetic field. Electrical conducting lines are underground, which significantly attenuates the first burst effects. NuScale uses redundant fiber optic cable for communication links, which are immune to EMP effects.


The NuScale plants feature multiple reactors, multiple turbine generators, an Auxiliary AC Power Source (AAPS), two 2MW backup diesel generators for blackstarting the plant, multiple main power transformers (MPTs) and unit auxiliary transformers (UATs), and redundant backup battery banks. Such redundancy is essential for addressing these complex threats.


The design also provides good grounding practices, lightning protection systems, surge arrestors for connections to the switchyard, delta-wye transformers, and circumferentially-bonded stainless-steel piping. So new nuclear plants are able to be designed, and old ones upgraded, to withstand EMPs better than most energy systems. Their inherent isolation from the rest of the world is similar to why they can so effectively withstand cyberattacks.

About Rajesh Uppal

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