EMP threat level from hermit kingdom rises with new test
WASHINGTON – The bomb test that North Korea conducted over the weekend was a “miniaturized” nuclear device – suggesting to U.S. sources that the day of a North Korean “Red Dawn” EMP attack that could decimate the American power grid might be closer.
The latest test was described by United Nations observers as twice the size of North Korea’s 2009 nuclear test but that the device was “small and light.”
North Korea news media announced that the detonation was a miniature nuclear device, which suggests that North Korean scientists are working on a bomb capable of fitting on their three-stage Taepodong-3 missile, which already is capable of reaching the U.S.
The North Koreans successfully had tested this three-stage missile within the past month.
What is of concern are a number of factors involving first the testing of the missile and now the nuclear device.
The three-stage missile is assessed by the U.S. intelligence community of being able to reach the West Coast of the U.S. During the test, the North Koreans also orbited a package which they claim was a satellite.
However, it could have been a test for an upcoming nuclear weapon that could be programmed to de-orbit and detonate at a high altitude anywhere from the West to the East coast of the U.S., potentially producing an electromagnetic pulse that could seriously damage or destroy the U.S. electric grid system.
Following its latest nuclear test, North Korea then issued a statement condemning U.S.-inspired United Nations sanctions meant to discourage North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.
With just a one megaton nuclear bomb, it could be exploded at an altitude of some 150 miles above the middle of the U.S., creating an electromagnetic pulse that could reach almost coast to coast and affect parts of Canada and possibly Mexico.
This scenario, which isn’t far-fetched given the latest technical demonstration, recently was depicted in the popular movie “Red Dawn,” in which the North Koreans use an EMP to knock out the U.S. electrical grid system in the Northwest.
In the movie, the North Koreans knock out all electricity as well as all command, control and communications and the ability to detect such a threat.
With the help of the Russians, as shown in the movie, the North Koreans are able to stage a land invasion on the U.S.
The latest nuclear test, which was conducted underground, had a low kiloton yield but sources say that scientists can scale it up potentially to achieve a megaton device.
In addition, U.S. intelligence is aware that North Korea and Iran years ago had obtained blueprints on how to miniaturize a nuclear weapon from the Pakistani A.Q. Khan, father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb.
It is possible that the nuclear test over the weekend was based on those blueprints which Khan had provided to both countries almost a decade ago.
Informed sources say that North Korea and Iran are collaborating not only on missile delivery systems but also exchanging technical data and North Korean scientists are to assist Iran with its possible development of a nuclear weapon.
Iran, which has defied U.S. and international sanctions to halt its nuclear enrichment program, denies that it is working on a nuclear weapon and further states that it has a “right” to develop nuclear energy as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.
North Korea is neither a signatory to the NPT nor a member of the IAEA, although actions over its nuclear work to date by the U.S. have been far less robust than those against Iran, prompting members of Congress to recommend increasing international sanctions and possibly institute an economic embargo in response to the latest nuclear test.
With a high-altitude nuclear explosion that produces an electromagnetic pulse, however, it would not destroy physical structures as depicted in the video but would have a major impact on the national grid system.
For years, U.S. experts have expressed concern over the catastrophic impact of an EMP event either from a nuclear attack or a massive solar storm.
This concern was especially highlighted in the comprehensive 2008 congressional report by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. The EMP commission pointed out:
“The electromagnetic pulse generated by a high altitude nuclear explosion is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.
“The increasingly pervasive use of electronics of all forms represents the greatest source of vulnerability to attack by EMP. Electronics are used to control, communicate, compute, store, manage, and implement nearly every aspect of United States (U.S.) civilian systems. When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation.
“This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.
“Because of the ubiquitous dependence of U.S. society on the electrical power system its vulnerability to an EMP attack, coupled with the EMP’s particular damage mechanisms, creates the possibility of long-term, catastrophic consequences.
“The implicit invitation to take advantage of this vulnerability, when coupled with increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, is a serious concern.
“A single EMP attack may seriously degrade or shut down a large part of the electric power grid in the geographic area of EMP exposure effectively instantaneously. There is also a possibility of functional collapse of grids beyond the exposed area, as electrical effects propagate from one region to another.”
Another potential problem arising from North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear bomb tests is the increasing lack of influence that Russia and especially China have over the North Korean leadership, who look upon having both as a matter of prestige.
China especially complained to the North Korean leadership first about its missile test and now over its most recent nuclear test.
There are indications that the Chinese would back a United Nations Security Council condemnation of the Hermit State’s recent nuclear test, and even agree to some mild sanctions, but do not intend to intervene more forcibly with the North Koreans.
That most likely would include U.S. congressional calls for a renewed economic embargo on North Korea.
The North Koreans also may be conducting the tests despite opposition from their closest friends in an effort to leverage the West for added concessions.
At the same time, the North Koreans are gaining invaluable knowledge on producing a nuclear weapon and its delivery system. With such knowledge, there is no indication that the North Koreans would scrap its nuclear or missile programs even if they won more Western concessions to halt those programs.