- - Monday, May 21, 2018

Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a major threat to the continued existence of America. An enemy could destroy our nation simply by detonating a single nuclear weapon above the atmosphere over our country. All our enemies, including some terrorist groups, have, or can acquire, this capability. The electromagnetic pulse from this detonation would destroy our national electric power grid, and it would take many months or years to rebuild it. Without electricity, virtually all our everyday life-support systems would remain paralyzed, and millions would die of disease or starvation.

Protection from this threat would be relatively simple and affordable, but for decades our leaders have refused to take action. This is because of near-total disagreement over the threat. The tragedy is that those who support protection against EMP know what they’re talking about, and those who deny the threat don’t. One would think this type of dispute would be easily resolvable. But not in this case. Here’s why.

EMP was discovered — almost by accident — by our nuclear weapons scientists during the Cold War. It loomed as an immense threat, and these scientists plunged into understanding it. Everything about EMP was highly classified — at least secret, often top secret. A great many of our underground nuclear weapon tests in the 1970s and 1980s focused on EMP. They were intensively instrumented. Progressively, EMP came to be understood as a complex scientific phenomenon. But it was still highly classified, and the only individuals who had access to scientific data on EMP were government nuclear weapons scientists.

The foremost government laboratory involved was the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA). It was America’s national laboratory for nuclear weapons effects, just as Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia were our national laboratories for nuclear weapons design. DNA’s function was to ensure that America’s military knew absolutely everything knowable about the many effects of nuclear weapons.

DNA employed many hundreds of nuclear scientists, detonated several underground nuclear weapon tests each year, carried out thousands of complex experiments involving nukes, and produced countless highly classified reports that were distributed to other nuclear scientists. Much of this work was focused on EMP. Its effects became are quite well understood — but only by these Cold War defense nuclear scientists. No EMP data reached anyone outside.

The Cold War ended in 1992, and many things happened. No enemies were in sight, so an undeclared nuclear freeze was established. Our leaders slashed weapons budgets and stopped all new nuclear programs. Underground nuclear testing was prohibited immediately. The United States has not conducted a test in 26 years. Advanced nuclear weapons science has been at a near standstill for a quarter-century. DNA was shut down in 1997. Most of DNA’s massive library of EMP scientific data is in cold storage somewhere.

Most of the hundred-odd U.S. contractors who specialized in nuclear weapons effects shifted to other business lines or went out of business. Through laws, regulations, national policies and budget cuts, anti-nuclear activists and arms controllers essentially denuclearized the Defense Department — the only source of EMP expertise.

Today, the few retired Cold Warriors who remain are the only nuclear scientists who have designed and conducted underground nuclear EMP tests and observed the results. They know the EMP threat is immense.

In 2001, a few alert congressmen established the EMP Commission to advise the nation of the seriousness of the threat and the essential defensive actions. Congress named its nine members: The chairman, William R. Graham, is the nuclear physicist who probably knows more about EMP than any other scientist. He had just served as director of President Reagan’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. The other eight members were superbly qualified through years of EMP research.

Over the past 17 years, this EMP Commission has produced many vital reports, clearly demonstrating that EMP can destroy America and kill many tens of millions, and that it can be defended against by measures which — although expensive — are well within our means.

However, during these same 17 years, a massive nationwide resistance to EMP expenditures has been orchestrated by the electric power industry and its many powerful three- or four-letter support organizations. These many thousands of important people bring their senators and congressmen (and their votes) with them. The left-wing national media, always opposed to U.S. nuclear preparedness, has spawned a cottage industry of non-experts who belittle EMP with pseudoscience, calling EMP unproven or a hoax.

Adding to the impasse, national policy for a quarter-century has prohibited the Departments of Defense and Energy from nuclear testing, so no one currently serving therein has any idea whose calculations are correct. Finally, the new Department of Homeland Security, which should be sounding the bugles for EMP defense, hasn’t a clue.

With a handful of knowledgeable, 80-year-old Cold Warriors on one side, and many thousands of misinformed, powerful people on the other, is it any wonder that nothing has been done? And guess what Congress just did? It disbanded the original EMP Commission, and directed establishment of a new one.

President Trump must issue an executive order directing the government to implement the EMP Commission’s long-standing recommendations on EMP defense. Failure would invite an attack.

• Robert R. Monroe, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, is the former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.

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