At a House Homeland Security hearing last week, experts warned that North Korea has the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear EMP attack that could wreck our country’s power grid, shut electricity off for months, and lead to the deaths of hundreds of millions of Americans. In chilling testimony, the experts said that Pyongyang could easily pivot to the “doomsday scenario” and launch an attack that would cripple the U.S. economy and devastate the population in ways that the Pentagon was not fully prepared to handle.
They called on military leaders and President Donald Trump to take concrete steps to reinforce America’s energy security, insisting that an EMP attack could have the effect of “shutting down the U.S. electric power grid for an indefinite period, leading to the death within a year of up to 90 percent of all Americans.”
In their testimony, William Graham and Peter Vincent Pry, former members of the EMP commission, said that the United States had for too long ignored the dangers facing America’s electricity systems.
“With the development of small nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles by new, radical U.S. adversaries, beginning with North Korea, the threat of a nuclear EMP attack against the U.S. becomes one of the few ways that such a country could inflict devastating damage to the United States,” the experts said. “It is critical, therefore, that the U.S. national leadership address the EMP threat as an existential issue and give a high priority to assuring the leadership is engaged and the necessary steps are taken to protect the country from EMP.”
In remarks to Fox News last month, national security expert Frank Gaffney said there was a crisis of responsibility in the U.S. when it came to preparing for an EMP attack on the grid.
“The military doesn’t think it is their job to make the grid resilient, even though 99 percent of their missions in continental United States rely on the civilian grid,” Gaffney said. “The utilities don’t think it is their job because it is a national security problem. Besides, they don’t want to come up with the money, face more regulatory burdens or fool with making over parts of the grid with uncertain technical consequences. And because of the sweetheart regulatory arrangement they have at the federal level, they have been able to avoid it.”
We can’t force America’s utility companies to take this threat seriously unless the urgency comes from the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon. We’re up against a new kind of enemy in a nuclearized North Korea, and while it doesn’t do anyone any good to panic, it is incumbent on the federal government to prepare for any worst-case-scenarios that might unfold. Even if the experts are exaggerating the risk level of an EMP attack, a disaster even half as destructive – even a fourth as destructive – would be the worst event in U.S. history and one of the biggest catastrophes of all time. This isn’t something we want to review in hindsight. Let’s do the hard lifting now and secure our grid against an impending nightmare.