End of the World 2013? National Geographic on EMP

Haley Parks /

An EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack could permanently disable the electrical systems that run nearly all civilian and military infrastructures. If a large nuclear device exploded high in the atmosphere above the United States it would cause a catastrophe. A similar disaster could result from space weather, according to an article in National Geographic.

A solar storm begins with hot gas from the sun hitting the earth’s atmosphere, causing an electromagnetic catastrophe. A few weeks ago, the world experienced the largest solar storm since 2007; it caused radio communications problems and a disruption of civil aviation. The sun has an 11 year sun-spot cycle; the time of peak activity of sunspots and solar flares is called the Solar Maximum. The peak of the 11-year solar storm is expected to hit in 2013; since 2000, the world has become even more dependent on global positioning systems for navigation and cell phone networks.

Scientists are estimating that a solar EMP today could cost the world economy up to $2 trillion! These scientists have been warning countries like the U.S., the U.K. and Sweden to be prepared for any such storm and to take precautions against it. This storm could shut down communications satellites, cause surges in power lines, and cause power grid failures.

In addition to dealing a devastating blow to the U.S. military, a solar storm could cause the destruction of the U.S. financial system and industries; today our financial structure relies on an advanced information technology system to accommodate millions of daily transactions. Effects on the transportation system would immediately disable millions of vehicles, rail cars, and planes. A disabled transportation system would inevitably lead to mass hunger and chaos, due to the amount of food that is transported on public transportation networks.

Finally, telecommunications—via wireless, wired lines, satellite, and radio—are vital to our everyday lives and would be destroyed under an EMP storm or attack. If nothing is done to protect the country from a solar pulse storm, the destruction of this infrastructure could have a devastating effect in the United States. Our government has not even started taking common-sense measures to deal with this danger.

Furthermore, the Administration is doing too little to deal with the threat of a manmade EMP from a nuclear-armed missile. In 2010, the Pentagon reduced the overall budget for missile defense by $1.6 billion, down 16 percent from 2009 levels. Building more robust long-range missile defense systems would help protect against the dangers of a possible nuclear EMP attack.

Haley Parks is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm