EMP Methods and Preps - Part II

“How does an EMP work?”

In many discussions of EMP, the author describes a series of events: the bomb detonating, the pulse falling and the destruction afterward. Not very often is the pulse creation process explained. Studies since 1986 have published some interesting factoids about EMP generation, and the capabilities of the devices that do it. For instance, it is assumed that the larger nuclear devices within the megaton range produce the hardest hitting pulses. This is true, or not, depending on your point of view. Volt for yield, the cheaper kiloton fission weapons produce a larger effect. They are more efficient at converting prompt gamma radiation into the electrical charges needed to form the pulse. This is because the fission primary used to fire the secondary fusion charge in thermonuclear devices will pre-ionize the air. This effectively short circuits the secondary pulse coming from the fusion burn. Large fission weapons in the kiloton range dump all of their gamma radiation very quickly and without interference, and do so in greater a volume than possible with the relatively small primaries in fusion weapons.

Here are some common acronyms associated with this topic.

EMP – Electromagnetic Pulse (generic term for any electromagnetic wave)
NEMP – Nuclear EMP (created via nuclear detonation at altitude)
NNEMP – Non-Nuclear EMP (solar storms, CMEs, flares, etc.)
HEMP – High Energy EMP (massive pulse created by huge weapons under optimal conditions)
EPFCG – Explosively Pumped Flux Compression Generator (or E-Bomb) is the chemical-electo device used to produce small scale EMPs without a nuclear component. Magenetic flux compression is the technique used by EPFCG devices.
MHD – Magenetohydrodynamic (Earth’s magnetic fields and lines of force displaced and compressed by a nuclear device)

We won’t be discussing any but the first, second and the last in this article. The first and the second are virtually the same for our purposes, and so for familiarity we will refer to NEMP as EMP.  The remainder have places in following articles, but I wanted you to have a feel for some of what is in the nuclear lexicon. NNEMP and EPFCG are very closely related when treated together as man made devices. There are forms of NNEMP occurring in nature via solar influences.

The Bomb

There are two basic forms of nuclear bombs. The first is the fission bomb, which used to be known as the “atom bomb”, or “A Bomb”. The second is the fusion bomb, also known as the “hydrogen bomb”, and is classified as a thermonuclear device.

Fission, simply put, is the splitting of atoms. A radioactive isotope provides radiating neutrons that crash into other radioactive isotopes, breaking them apart – splitting them. Each split atom produces more neutrons along with great amounts of energy, and those neutrons create more collisions and divisions. It is a chain reaction, starting off with a kick in the pants and within microseconds filling the bomb casing with the man made hell of heat and radiation.

The fusion bomb is actually two bombs, in its most basic form, and is commonly known as a “hydrogen bomb”, or “H Bomb”. Fusion is the joining together of atoms rather than the splitting apart, accomplished under great heat and pressure. The fuel for a fusion bomb is “burned” within the crucible of a fission explosion. Our modest fission bomb, called a “primary” when used within a hydrogen bomb, sets up the environment needed for the “secondaries” fusion burn. The explosive results of the secondary stage are massively larger than the primary. Fusion liberates much more energy and radiation, and the size and temperature of the resulting plasma ball give rise to the name “thermonuclear”. Fusion bombs can be further ramped up by the injection of light hydrogen isotopes at the point of secondary detonation, and even tertiary stages designed around further fission and injection.

In both types of devices, fission is present, and this destruction of radioactive nuclei  creates “prompt gamma radiation”, or gamma rays. It is these rays, and their deposition within a particular part of the earth’s atmosphere, that create the overall EMP effect.

Bomb casings can attenuate the gamma radiation that a designer would prefer escape and interact with the atmosphere. Early in the development of atomic weapons, casings were built thick and strong to keep the nuclear package together, using up as much fissile material as possible, before blowing itself apart. Blast and heat were the goals, not EMP generation. Modern fission bombs utilize a thinner case, which allows for greater gamma pass-through efficiency. Prompt gamma radiation from newer devices has an expected measurement of .05% of their yield as compared to .01% created by high yield cousins with thicker cases. This is a 500% increase in usable gamma ray production.

The gamma radiation used to produce a pulse requires a certain volume of air in which to work. This volume is best measured between the device and the target area, or ground. As the size of the bomb increases, so must the volume of air required for efficient pulse generation, necessitating that the device must be detonated at a higher altitude.

Basic Mechanics of Pulse Creation

Fission bombs create a proportionally larger pulse due to the lack of pre-ionizing of the atmosphere, which in turn absorbs free electrons necessary to the production of the pulse. The area of the atmosphere in which the pulse is created is called the Deposition Region (DR). This is the region of air that will achieve peak electrical conductivity due to ionization (via gamma ray intrusion). It is basically the cradle of the newly born EMP, wherein its maximum pulse energy is defined and grown.

EMP Graphic

The EMP is being produced by the transverse Compton electric currents, and limited by secondary electrons (which affect the electrical field) freed by non primary gamma ray hits on nuclei, which drive negatively charged particles outward into the DR. As the negative and positive charges are separated within the DR, an electrical potential is created and the currents flow. These free electrons rotate about the magnetic lines of force creating waves of energy of varying frequency. Outside of the DR, EMP is neither produced nor attenuated by any significant degree, though its transmission via regular radio wave propagation takes over, extending its effects outward to any surface within line-of-sight. This propagation is the means by which the pulse is delivered to its targets outside of the DR.

So, to sum it up:  Fission creates gamma rays which impact nuclei resulting in free electron scattering away from the device. The charged particles separate, positive from negative creating currents. Free electrons then settle on the earth’s magnetic filed lines and produce magnetically induced waves of energy, which then propagate through the atmosphere much like radio transmissions and fall upon the earth, more powerfully so away from the magnetic poles. These waves are powerful and cover a very wide spectrum on frequencies.

The largest DR for fusion bombs of 1 and 10 megatons yield are defined by their height above ground, the atmosphere overhead of the burst, and the inverse square law of radiation which effectively limits the upper level of the DR due to radiation dilution. The optimal heights are 100km for a 1MT fusion device, and 200km for a 10MT fusion device. Large kiloton bombs may operate within the same range.

The Three Horned Devil

There are, in reality, three components to the overall EMP hammer. These are commonly labeled as E1, E2 and E3.

E1 is the initial, quickly rising and very powerful signal /pulse. The destruction of radioactive nuclei by fission (splitting, as opposed to fusion, or joining) releases prompt gamma rays, traveling outward in all directions. These gamma rays travel great distances to reach the region where they will tear off electrons from atoms in the atmosphere. This region is about 20 – 40km above ground (12 -24 miles). Its generation time is about 1 microsecond.

E2 is the secondary pulse generated by various scattered neutrons hitting air molecules. After they have been slowed by collisions in the air, creating additional gamma rays, they are finally captured by the nuclei of nitrogen atoms. This last act creates further gamma rays, adding to the cascade in motion. The effects of the E2 are similar to the large static discharges produced by lighting. Some lightning protective devices can handle an E2 wave, but the fast and powerful E1  may have previously defeated them. These two pulses, or events, can clash. Pre-ionized atmosphere from the E1 can block secondary pulse generation by effectively shorting it out. (This explains how some areas beneath the “Fishbowl” tests of the 60s were not as hard hit as others, as pre-ionized regions created a shield to E2 and E3.)  The E2 generation time is from 1 microsecond to 1 full second.

E3 is the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) effect of the bomb’s fireball creating a conductive plasma zone so intense that magnetic fields can not exist in its presence. This fireball temporarily displaces the earth’s local magnetic field from its usual position. As the field is shoved away from the plasma zone, it is also compressed, changing its form and increasing its intensity. This change produces a pulse comprised of extremely low frequencies (ELF). It is the ELF that can penetrate the earth to some depth and charge the big and long cables used for communications and power, and even metallic pipes transmitting natural gas and water. Another result of the MHD is the bouncing back and forth of charged particles, resulting from the detonation, along magnetic lines of force between conjugal points on opposite sides of the earth, or opposite magnetic hemispheres. This mirroring, or ping-ponging is very fast. As they move, they also create ELF energy.  E3 generation times can last for 1 to 10 seconds by some estimates, or even several minutes by others.

The E3 pulse comes down hard and stays around for a while. It is this reality that creates huge loads on major conductors, resulting in blown out transformers, generators and other large pieces of equipment on the power grid. Anything that is connected to the heavy transmission lines is subject to destruction or, if it survives, it may pass on a large component of the surge to devices and facilities downstream. With the damage created by the first two components, some E3 energy might not make it very far down the line. While the 3 Hammers could work together to destroy everything, they will be in conflict at random and unpredictable points. This undoubtedly will lead to the “miraculous” survival of some installations and equipment. The energy coursing through the grid and other long metallic collectors (railways, trolley rails, long steel bridges, some highrises, etc.) will not emanate from a single point. It will seem to appear from everywhere at once, as the pulse rains down. In reality, it will form in a large region below the device and somewhat offset by the magnetic lines of force local to the geography. But the progression of pulse contacts will be so quick, rise times in diverse locations will effectively merge into one.

As the plasma ball rises, it will generally move with the lines of magnetic force. This will take it towards a magnetic pole in its hemisphere. As it moves, so does the displacement of the local magnetosphere. This gives the E3 an opportunity to generate a pulse on the move. The more the fireball moves, the longer the duration of the pulse.

Pop. Hiss. BANG. Your first indication of an EMP attack may very well be dead lights. Your confirmation might be smoke and explosions off in the distance.

Some Not So Generally Known Results of EMP Generation

The Van Allen Belts become amped up with free electrons, which become trapped there for over a year. Satellites passing through these clouds in low orbit rapidly degrade, and may fail completely within weeks, or even days. Telstar 1 was the first example of this, dying within weeks of passing through Fishbowl contamination.

Low frequencies from an ELF component penetrate further into the ground than shorter wavelengths. Perhaps one of the best examples of low frequency, long wavelength technology is our alert system used to communicate with subs at sea.  The very low frequency (VLF 3-30kHz ) and extremely low frequency (ELF 3-300Hz) antenna arrays can penetrate water to 20 meters and 300 meters (nominal) respectively. The VLF antennae are set in an array of several square kilometers. ELF antenna are actually built using terminating poles set in the earth at distances of 30 to 70 kilometers apart, with the transmitter between the poles and linked by cables. The earth’s mass makes up a portion of the antenna, and regions of high ground conductivity improve this. These methods show how effective EMP transmissions can be, especially since they are created across such a massive portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, wildly at random and oblivious to the signal handling ability of devices in their paths. It also tells us that conductive ground paths will absorb and pass along portions of the pulse. The timing of a pulse reaching a certain point will be a differential, if predicting the arrival of airborne and ground waves. Grounding an EMP protective device may not be a good idea as a result of this double tap from above and below.

Short conductors will not collect as much energy as long conductors. Many items, therefore, will survive a burst. Wristwatches and battery powered wall clocks. Simple motors used in fans, alternators, pumps may survive. Light bulbs. Perhaps even solar collectors (happy news for off-grid preppers!). Pacemakers, insulin pumps and cortical stimulators may all survive unless there is an inordinate amount of energy at extremely short wavelengths.

Some radios will do just fine. Many radio boards contain both the transmit and receive circuitry. Because of their proximity in a small package, they are built to a tougher standard so that one side doesn’t toast the other. This may mean that short antennas will not be vernerable enough to blow these radios. I agree with the reasoning behind this, but I also expect that your success may vary. EMP protective devices should be used for all critical equipment. Backup radios are an agreed upon standard for prepper communities. It should not be given up.

Some EMP attack scenarios call for multiple devices. Remember, an EMP wave must be initiated in a region of the atmosphere that can create electrical currents. If those currents already exist, further creation is negated. The air is effectively “short circuited” to any further effort. (Pre-ionization) Therefore, if multiple devices are to be used, they need to be targeted where they will not interfere with each other. What this means is that the use of a few large weapons might be tried, but one may cancel the other, and create zones of non-effect on the ground. It also means that the usage of a several smaller fission weapons is more meaningful (if the delivery means exists). These weapons are cheaper and lightweight. Because they are cheap, they can be sent in waves over several weeks, hampering recovery efforts and destroying spare components brought online following the initial attack.

Part I of this series is found HERE.

Part III

Part IV



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