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News Analysis

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry: America May Never Recover From EMP Attack

Mon, June 4, 2012

by: 
Ryan Mauro

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is the Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security for the Congressional Caucus on EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) that endeavors to carry on the work of the EMP Commission. He is also the Director of the United States Nuclear Strategy Forum, an advisory body to Congress on policies to counter weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Pry has served on the staffs of the EMP Commission, the Strategic Posture Commission, the Commission on the New Strategic Posture of the U.S., the House Armed Services Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency.

For those unfamiliar with what an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) attack is, please view the segment on the topic from the Clarion Fund’s Iranium by clicking here.

The following is RadicalIslam.org’s national security analyst Ryan Mauro’s interview with Dr. Pry:

Ryan Mauro: How long will it take to get critical infrastructure back up and running after an EMP attack?

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry:  Given the current state of U.S. unpreparedness, after a nuclear EMP attack that collapses the electric grid and other critical infrastructures, the U.S. might never recover.  The Congressional EMP Commission--that investigated the EMP threat for nearly a decade and produced the most definitive analysis of the threat--estimated that within one year of a nuclear EMP attack, about two-thirds of the U.S. population, about 200 million Americans, would likely perish from starvation, disease and societal collapse.  Iranian military writings openly describe making an EMP attack to eliminate the United States as an actor on the world stage.

Mauro: Have past nuclear tests in the air produced an EMP?

Pry: Past exoatmospheric nuclear tests have produced an EMP, such as the 1962 STARFISH PRIME nuclear test.  The nuclear burst must occur at high altitude, above 30-40 kilometers, to produce the EMP effect.  During the Cold War, the Soviet Union conducted high-altitude EMP tests over part of their own territory that collapsed electric grids.  Fifty years of empirical data from nuclear tests and EMP simulators proves that an EMP attack would have catastrophic consequences.

Mauro: How could the U.S. government protect us from this threat? How much would it cost?

Pry:  The Congressional EMP Commission produced a plan for protecting all U.S. critical infrastructures from nuclear and natural EMP (such as would be generated by a great geomagnetic storm, like the 1859 Carrington event) that could be implemented in 3-5 years at a cost of $10-20 billion.  This would provide robust protection.  At minimum, the 300 EHV transformers that service the biggest U.S. cities, where most of the population lives, could and should be protected, at a cost of $100-200 million, or about one dollar for every life that could be saved.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that the national electric grid could be protected from EMP at a cost to the average rate payer of 20 cents annually.

Mauro: How much dispute is there over the science behind the horrific scenario you depict? A skeptic once sent me a report by Oak Ridge National Laboratories/Metatech about “myths” regarding the EMP threat.

 Pry: Among the numerous official Congressional and USG studies on nuclear EMP attack--that includes reports by the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the Department of Energy and National Electric Reliability Corporation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (which includes the Metatech report), there is an official scientific and technical consensus that an EMP attack would have catastrophic consequences.  Even the most optimistic "best case" scenario involving a nuclear EMP attack by a primitive low-yield nuclear weapon would be an unprecedented catastrophe and could collapse the national electric grid and other critical infrastructures that sustain modern society and the lives of millions.

 Indeed, the entire purpose of Congressional Commissions is to, if possible, resolve controversy and achieve consensus on matters of national security concern.  Two Congressional Commissions staffed by our nation's best experts and supported by the vast resources of the defense department, the intelligence community and the national nuclear weapons laboratories have independently arrived at the same consensus that a nuclear EMP attack would be catastrophic--so as a matter of public policy, the existential character of the nuclear EMP threat is not controversial, but an established fact.

There are some individuals, usually in academia, who claim the EMP threat is exaggerated.  But these people are not EMP experts and are simply ignorant or politically motivated, as when the New York Times ganged up on Newt Gingrich for trying to warn about the EMP threat during his presidential bid.  Nonetheless the press, uneducated about EMP itself, keeps quoting these non-experts.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  I know well Dr. William Radasky, the team leader of the Oak Ridge/Metatech report, and he would certainly agree that a nuclear EMP attack on the U.S. would be an unprecedented catastrophe--and this is the conclusion of his report.  If you read the report, it warns that an EMP event could collapse the electric grid and other critical infrastructures and require 4-10 years to recover.  Can you imagine trying to survive for years in the aftermath of a nuclear EMP attack that deprives you and millions of your fellow citizens of food, water, transportation and other necessities for life?  Sounds pretty catastrophic to me. 

But it should not take a genius to realize that when a falling tree branch can cause the great northeast blackout of 2003, any nuclear EMP attack would certainly have catastrophic consequences.  Iran, North Korea, China and Russia all certainly understand this, as reflected in their military writings.

Ryan Mauro: How far away is Iran and other enemies of the U.S. from having the capability to carry out this kind of attack? Some experts say that Iran would still need a year to construct an actual nuclear bomb after acquiring the necessary highly enriched uranium and would need years after that to develop a nuclear warhead that can fit onto a ballistic missile.

Dr. Peter Vincent Pry:  Any state or group possessing any nuclear weapon and any missile capable of reaching an altitude over 30-40 kilometers can make an EMP attack.  An ICBM is not necessary.  An EMP attack can be delivered by a short-range missile launched from a ship, such as a commercial freighter, operating near U.S. shores.  Iran has practiced such a delivery mode.  Iran already has missiles, such as Scuds and its Shahab-III, capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. 

Officially, the Obama Administration claims that Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons.  Personally, I have written several articles warning that Iran might already have the bomb.  Our intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapons program is not good.  Historically, our intelligence community has a bad record on predicting the advent of new nuclear weapon states and was taken by surprise by the development of nuclear weapons by Russia, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Supposedly, Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons for 20 years, yet during World War II, the U.S. Manhattan Project developed the world's first nuclear weapons using 1940’s era technology in just three years.  Why should Iran, with access to the now declassified Manhattan Project papers and copious other U.S. documents on nuclear weapons design and helped by North Korea and others and equipped with modern technology, not be able to accomplish in 20 years what the U.S. accomplished during the 1940’s in just three?   

The difficulty of miniaturizing a nuclear warhead for missile delivery is often exaggerated.  Pakistan deployed nuclear warheads on its Ghauri missile just one year after its first nuclear test.  Israel, according to the respected Wisconsin Project, has developed a sophisticated array of nuclear weapons, including thermonuclear warheads and weapons miniaturized for delivery by missiles and artillery--all without nuclear testing.

Ryan Mauro is RadicalIslam.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.