- Experts recently told Congress that a North Korean electromagnetic-pulse attack on the US could wipe out 90% of the population.
- EMP attacks are unproven, and the academic community finds this claim ridiculous.
- Even if North Korea did pull off the attack, it wouldn't hurt the US's nuclear systems that are hardened against EMPs.
A report to congress on the dangers of a North Korean electromagnetic-pulse attack against the US electrical grid recently made headlines for claiming that the rogue nation could kill off 90% of the US population with a single blast.
Every nuclear blast creates an electromagnetic pulse that can short out electronics. A large nuclear blast outside the atmosphere above the US could short out electric systems across the continent and cause airliners in flight to crash, according to the report.
But according to experts, the idea of North Korea using an EMP to attack the US is ridiculous, laughable, and totally unlikely. The US's own Defense Technical Information Center concluded in 2008 that an EMP in reality couldn't actually even stop a car from driving more than three times out of 37.
"If you have the required level of capability to conduct some sort of very high level exo-atmospheric EMP, you'd get more effect out of using that as a nuclear-strike capability," Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in military technology at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider.
Because an EMP is "quite an unpredictable effecter," according to Bronk, North Korea would take a huge risk using an unproven technology to attack the US when it could simply bomb a city.
A Trident II ICBM launching. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
But if North Korea did try a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack on the US with the intent of killing as many people as possible, the result " would be exactly the same in terms of response from the US as actually a ground detonation," said Bronk.
The nuclear infrastructure the US would use to respond to such an attack has been hardened against EMPs. As soon as the blast in space was detected, US nuclear missiles would streak across the sky and obliterate North Korea.
Additionally, a North Korean bomb detonating in space wouldn't just hurt the US electrical grid, it would destroy all nearby satellites. Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and other satellites would become useless. The resulting EMP blast would fry electronics all over the western hemisphere in a truly international attack against humanity.
Not only would the US retaliate, but the attack would likely turn the world against North Korea, creating unprecedented international support for the use of force against its leader Kim Jong Un.
So while North Korea detonating a nuclear bomb in space could devastate the US, it's unlikely the entire world would rest until Kim had been dug out of a bunker and made to pay for his crime against humanity.