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  1.  (5968.1)
    I've been reading up on EMP for some fiction. Electromagnetic Pulse is a nasty little "side effect" of a nuclear weapon, frying computers. And since damn near everything has a computer in it these days...

    I came across this ugly nugget on wikipedia.

    In 1962, the Soviet Union also performed a series of three EMP-producing nuclear tests in space over Kazakhstan called "The K Project". Although these weapons were much smaller (300 kilotons) than the Starfish Prime test, since those tests were done over a populated large land mass (and also at a location where the Earth's magnetic field was greater), the damage caused by the resulting EMP was reportedly much greater than in the Starfish Prime nuclear test. The geomagnetic storm-like E3 pulse (from the test designated as "Test 184") even induced an electrical current surge in a long underground power line that caused a fire in the power plant in the city of Karagandy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the level of this damage was communicated informally to scientists in the United States. Formal documentation of some of the EMP damage in Kazakhstan exists but is still sparse in the open scientific literature.

    At the freezing point of the Cold War the Soviets were testing EMP blasts over their own people.

    Just to freak you out a little more. EMP areas of effectivenes over the US at varying altitudes.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    Oh now just isn't that AWESOME.

    Is it true that computers have to be powered up and working at the time of an EMP blast or does it still fuck things up regardless of whether or not they're powered?
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009 edited
    Interesting...right around the time the show /Jericho/ was first out a couple years ago, I had read some articles criticizing its use of EMP as a plot point (the entire infrastructure of the U.S. was devastated by about six ground burst bombs in major cities). I'll see if I can dig it up again, because the specification of an airburst there is interesting.
  2.  (5968.4)
    After 9/11 I remember that some American engineering students announced that they had built a massive one-shot EMP device that could fit in a van and be charged on standard current. They refused to release details, not sure if they were full of shit or turned it all over to the feds. I’m pretty sure it was on Wired, but searches aren’t digging it up.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    Ren - I'm pretty sure it works regardless of whether the electronics are turned on. The wires and metal elements in the chips act as antenna receiving the EMP energy and heat up as a result.

    Thing is it's a lot less than 100% effective. You'd lose a lot of the stuff directly below the detonation point but decreasing percentages of electrical gear as you moved out from the epicenter.

    Two fun things to think about:

    1. Small-scale EMP devices - capable of downing an airliner or killing the electrics in a hospital - are quite easy to make in theory. The US military is working on battlefield EMP devices and New Scientist ran an article a couple of months back which I'm sure Al Qaeda took clippings of.

    2. Solar Coronal eruptions pump out far more energy than EMP devices. The biggest solar eruption was back in the 1850's or 1860's. There wasn't much electrical infrastructure around but it was intense enough to melt telegraph lines. Imagine that much energy pumped into microchips - all over the planet.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    And most critical equipment, and all strategic military equipment, is protected by Faraday cages and the like. Because cars and planes are surrounded by a sheet of conductive material that rarely touch the interior electronics, they also work as faraday cages.
    • CommentAuthorradian
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    Cool as EMP is, especially when used by bad guys in 80s cartoons (Starcom) a Neutron Bomb seems a far more sinister "side effect" of a nuclear detonation because "damage is more focused on biological material than on material infrastructure". The Nuclear-scale version of killing you and taking your stuff.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    Small-scale EMP devices - capable of downing an airliner or killing the electrics in a hospital - are quite easy to make in theory.

    Happens every day in the Marvel Universe. Tony Stark can make one out of a bottle of aspirin and an alarm clock, apparently.
    Faraday cages

    Are teh awesome. New-fangled bomb-shelters. Y'all heard it here first.
  3.  (5968.9)
    A bit more from the US House Armed Services committee commission to assess the danger of an EMP attack.

    The big question is, how "effective" would the EMP be? Killing all the tech stone dead 100% is unlikely, and the Armed forces are rolling with EMP hardened equipment for years. Data centers might survive, since geeks often take very paranoid precautions with those server farms. See Cory Doctorow's great "When Sysadmins ruled the earth" for a take on that.

    It's fairly scary stuff when you think about how reliant, dependent, we are on a constant electrical streams. Add to that the average person knowing fuck all about food production and even basic survival practices. It starts getting dark out there quick.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    It would be more annoying that "effective" i think. Even most hospitals have protected equipment. Many cars would still operate, as would modern planes and the like. Don't get me wrong, I'd be pissed about losing my computer, but I have a gas stove so no problem there :D. And the power grid in my area is almost entirely underground. It could be dangerous if done in the middle of winter if it was cold enough, though. Maybe.
    • CommentAuthor256
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009 edited
    It's actually fortunate that the "easiest" way to generate an electromagnetic pulse is to detonate a nuclear device. So far, no terrorist group - anywhere, ever - has been known to possess a nuclear weapon*.

    Furthermore, if any terrorists who want to fuck over any western country already have nuclear weapons, the primary concern should not be whether or not your computer works.

    Also, the funny thing about neutron bombs is that they were designed by a complete nut with the specific aim to cause less human suffering than normal nuclear weapons, but their characterization as the "ultimate capitalist weapon" seems to have made (rich, white) people worry about them much more. Neutron bombs have an interesting and bizarre history beyond the popular conception that is worthy of actual inspection by Whitechappeleans.

    * Apart, thinking about it, from radionuclide-assassinations like St. Litvinenko. But that's not quite the same thing.
    • CommentAuthorStefanJ
    • CommentTimeMay 28th 2009
    The same stuff you'd use to protect and harden against EMP would help against harsh solar weather (coronal mass ejection).

    I'd love to see stimulus spending on making the grid a) hardened, b) flexible, combining segmenting to protect against cascade collapses and integration to route around problems, and c) easily repairable. There should be spares for every transformer, or at least for strategically important areas with reserves on trucks ready to roll. Kind of like FEMA supplies for the electrical grid.

    And, yes, you'd harden the electronics on the trucks and command centers.