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Non-Nuclear EMPs: Assessing the Dangers

An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from a high-altitude nuclear explosion could have a devastating effect on any nation’s power grid, while also causing incalculable damage to electronic devices and any other equipment that uses electronic micro-circuitry. The effects of an atmospheric nuclear attack could be catastrophic for the United States and could conceivably be carried out with surprising ease through the use of an off-shore missile launcher.

As bad as such an attack could be, however, it is not the only type of EMP threat we have to be aware of. It is not well known to the general public, but non-nuclear technologies also exist that are capable of producing EMPs. While smaller in intensity than those caused by nuclear explosions, non-nuclear EMPs could still cause significant localized damage. In the hands of terrorists, non-nuclear EMP generators could be used to carry out a coordinated and large-scale attack against sensitive targets throughout the United States.

How Non-Nuclear EMP Generators Work

Electromagnetic pulses are high-voltage emissions of electric current that damage or destroy electric and electronic equipment by overwhelming them with power that is too concentrated for them to handle.  Surprisingly, non-nuclear EMP generators are relatively easy for anyone with some expertise in electronics and electrical engineering to construct. The reason for this is that EMPs are high intensity/brief duration emissions, and because the equipment needed to produce and transmit them only has to function for a very short period of time, exceeding the current and voltage limits of generating and transmitting systems involved will not present problems. Doing so can certainly destroy the equipment used to generate the pulse, but because the damage occurs after the fact, this would not present any obstacle for those determined to construct such a generator.

A high-powered radio transmitter can be used to make an EMP generator. Constructing such an apparatus would be relatively easy for amateur electronics enthusiasts/terrorists; in fact, many devices are already constructed and simply waiting to be taken advantage of. A lot of ready-made transmitters are now lying around unused after television stations all across the country were forced to stop transmitting analog TV signals in 2009. Even a microwave oven can be easily converted into a potent energy pulse generator.

In order to create a rapid and powerful electromagnetic pulse, it is only necessary to charge a large capacitor to its maximum voltage. The stored electricity can then be discharged through the transmitter in one quick burst of DC current, which can be sent to its target through the use of a high-accuracy directional antenna.

Non-Nuclear Generators on the Market

One might think that some effort would be made to keep information about this kind of technology out of the hands of the general public. But high-energy radio frequency pulse generators or detailed plans to construct them can actually be purchased over the Internet. More advanced EMP generators are also available, supposedly for legitimate research only, but no real safeguards have been put in place to guarantee such machines won’t end up in the wrong hands.

Some of the types of non-nuclear EMP generators currently available on the market include:

  • Flux Compression Generators: First developed by the U.S. military in the early 1950s, flux compression generators are usually set off through the use of an explosive charge. Smaller models could be transported in a truck or van, although the military is still in possession of larger, more powerful types of flux compression devices.
  • Electromagnetic Pinch Devices:  These devices are used to direct powerful compressive forces at objects, which can be targeted from a relatively long distance if a parabolic focusing dish is employed. Beyond the electrical damage they cause, EPDs can actually physically destroy the objects they are used against.
  • Marx Generators:  First introduced in 1924, these voltage-multiplying devices are usually used in EMP resistance testing performed on potentially sensitive electric or electronic systems.
  • HERF Guns:  HERF stands for High Energy Radio Frequency. These weapons have been pushed by manufacturers on police departments as a way to disable the vehicles of criminals by blowing out their electronic ignition systems. Concerns about the technology possibly ending up in the hands of criminals if it goes into mass production have kept HERF guns from being widely used.

The True Nature of the Threat

Non-nuclear EMPs have a limited range. Nevertheless, if targeted at sensitive electronic or electric equipment, they could be quite effective in causing significant damage, destruction, and loss of critical digital data. Despite the danger that would exist for anyone playing around with high voltage electricity, non-nuclear EMP generators could make an ideal weapon for terrorists and saboteurs. Because construction of such a device could be achieved with the use of readily available, relatively mundane materials, it would not be necessary for any would-be terrorists to smuggle anything sensitive across a border in order to build a machine to carry out an attack.

While the limited range of this technology would force terrorists to focus EMPs on specific electronic or electrical systems or devices, coordinated attacks carried out simultaneously at multiple locations could potentially cause the destruction of tens of millions of dollars worth of valuable equipment. It could cause localized blackouts, loss of security systems at vulnerable institutions, irreparable damage to large-scale computer networks, a significant loss of critical information, and much, much more.

Non-nuclear EMPs would not be a threat to life and limb, generally speaking. However, saboteurs determined to disrupt the American economy could certainly do so by using EMP generators to cause widespread havoc and chaos. Security against such attacks is possible, if those responsible for protecting valuable electronic equipment and micro or macro power grids are willing to spend the time, effort, and money necessary to adequately shield or shelter those systems. Taking these steps would actually be triply valuable, because they could protect energy networks and vital equipment from all potential sources of EMPs, whether they were solar, nuclear, or non-nuclear.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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