Are conservatives more worried about the streetlights going out in Peoria than the destruction of Los Angeles?

Following the latest threats from Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

The North Koreans also went out of their way to taunt us about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, I suppose because they think we’re worried about them. I think its laughable to imagine that North Korea would waste a nuclear weapon hoping to knock down parts of the power grid. For my part, I would much prefer the North Koreans waste nuclear weapons trying to achieve an uncertain EMP effect than incinerating cities with real people pushing strollers with real babies. KCNA is really stepping up its trolling game.

This trolling game is, however, clearly working: “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid,” warns Fox News.

The Sun reports: “Homeleand security expert Peter Pry has warned Pyongyang could put a nuclear weapon on a satellite that could be detonated on command over the States.”

What’s strange about these warnings about the dangers of an EMP attack is that they are coming just as North Korea has tested a weapon almost ten times as powerful as the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — in other words, a weapon whose devastating effects should hardly be a matter of conjecture.

Frank Gafney may provide the answer as to why the EMP fears are getting amplified to such a degree:

The imperative of protecting the nation’s bulk-power distribution system, better known as “the grid,” must now take precedence over other improvements. The U.S. military has known for decades how to “harden” electrical and electronic gear from EMP. These techniques must now be applied on an emergency basis to ensure that the civilian grid – upon which both our armed forces and our population and economy critically depend – is made as invulnerable as possible to enemy action.

Translation for Trumpsters: Not only do we need a border wall; we now also need a space wall — and thus a massive increase in defense spending.

All warnings about EMP refer back to a 1962 nuclear test that involved a bomb ten times as powerful as the one just tested:

When the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1962, it resulted in lights burning out in Honolulu, nearly 1,000 miles from the test site. Naturally occurring electromagnetic events on the sun can also disrupt power systems. A 1989 blackout in Quebec came days after powerful explosions on the sun expelled a cloud of charged particles that struck earth’s magnetic field.

Skeptics generally acknowledge that an EMP attack would be possible in theory, but they say the danger is exaggerated because it would be difficult for an enemy such as North Korea to calibrate the attack to deliver maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid. If a North Korean bomb exploded away from its target location, it might knock out only a few devices or parts of the grid.

The 1962 U.S. nuclear test, which involved a bomb with a force of 1.4 megatons, didn’t disrupt telephone or radio service in Hawaii, although those who stress the threat say today’s electronic devices are much more vulnerable. North Korea said its hydrogen bomb had explosive power of tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Others say that even if North Korea had the technical capability to deliver a damaging electromagnetic pulse, it wouldn’t make strategic sense to use it because Pyongyang could wreak more destruction with a traditional nuclear attack directed at a large city.

A rogue state would prefer a “spectacular and direct ground burst in preference to a unreliable and uncertain EMP strike. A weapon of mass destruction is preferable to a weapon of mass disruption,” wrote physicist Yousaf M. Butt in a 2010 analysis.

Just to be clear again: those experts who downplay the EMP threat are in no sense understating the nuclear threat.

“It is beyond me why we think an enemy would waste a perfectly good nuclear weapon to experiment with a hypothetical EMP when they could destroy an actual city,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told The National Interest.

“EMP is a loony idea. Once an enemy uses a nuclear weapon—for any reason—it crosses the nuclear threshold and invites a nuclear response. U.S. military commanders would not say ‘Well, it was only an airburst. We should just respond in kind.’ They would answer with an overwhelming, devastating nuclear counter attack. And our nuclear weapons and command and control are designed to operate in a nuclear war environment, not just some puny EMP blast.”

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