While there’s no question that a nuclear strike on the Continental US would be utterly devastating, it’s not the only way a rogue state like North Korea could kill millions of American civilians in one fell swoop.
Another possibility that is being studied by lawmakers and Pentagon officials is – like North Korea itself – a vestige of the Cold War. We’re of course referring to an electromagnetic pulse. By detonating a hydrogen bomb in just the right spot miles above the Earth’s surface, the North could permanently damage the US power grid – maybe even take it offline completely. By robbing entire swaths of the US of electricity, the North could precipitate thousands – if not millions – of deaths.
The North first threatened an EMP attack over the summer, and North Korean media and its people have mentioned it several times since.
Given the success of the North’s missile tests, Congress increased funding for the Commission to Assess the Threat to the US from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack as part of the National Defense Authorization Act back in September.
Last month, federal agencies and utility executives held GridEx IV, a biennial event where officials responsible for hundreds of local utilities game out scenarios in which North America’s power grid could fail. Unsurprisingly, with the North Korean threat looming, these discussions took on a whole new level of urgency, as Bloomberg explains.
The consensus was hardly reassuring. How damaging would an EMP attack be? Well, nobody can say for sure. But according to a report from the Electric Power Research Institute, an EMP could easily trigger a “mass casualty event” – even if its impact was limited to a specific region, as one of their simulations suggested…