What You Need to Know About North Korea’s Hydrogen Bomb and EMP Capabilities
This weekend, North Korea conducted their most powerful nuclear test ever, with what was believed to be a hydrogen bomb in the northern part of their country. The explosion was so massive that it triggered a man-made earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale. If North Korean sources are to be believed, the bomb tested was a powerful 100 kiloton weapon.
But that’s not all. To take the massive threat to an entirely different level, the North Korean state news also warned that a powerful hydrogen bomb could be detonated at a high altitude to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) capable of taking out parts of the American power grid. (PS: They have two satellites orbiting over the United States that could potentially carry out such an attack.)
Knowledge is power, so let’s break down this information with some explanations.
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What is a hydrogen bomb?
A hydrogen bomb has some similarities to an atom bomb, but works using an opposite chemical reaction and is far more powerful. Both hydrogen bombs and atomic bombs are nuclear in nature, so after the initial blast, there would be deadly radioactive fallout and environmental issues.
An atom bomb is what was used by the United States against the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War 2.
Nuclear fission produces the atomic bomb, a weapon of mass destruction that uses power released by the splitting of atomic nuclei.
When a single free neutron strikes the nucleus of an atom of radioactive material like uranium or plutonium, it knocks two or three more neutrons free. Energy is released when those neutrons split off from the nucleus, and the newly released neutrons strike other uranium or plutonium nuclei, splitting them in the same way, releasing more energy and more neutrons. This chain reaction spreads almost instantaneously. (source)
To give you an idea of the power of an atomic bomb, Hiroshima was hit with the power of 15,000 tons of TNT, while Nagasaki was blasted with the destructive power of 21,000 tons of TNT.
A hydrogen bomb works differently.
Nuclear fusion is a reaction that releases atomic energy by the union of light nuclei at high temperatures to form heavier atoms. Hydrogen bombs, which use nuclear fusion, have higher destructive power and greater efficiencies than atomic bombs.
Due to the high temperatures required to initiate a nuclear fusion reaction, the process is often referred to as a thermonuclear explosion. This is typically done with the isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) which fuse together to form Helium atoms. This led to the term “hydrogen bomb” to describe the deuterium-tritium fusion bomb. (source)
Hydrogen bombs (H-bombs) have been used before.
The first hydrogen bomb was exploded on November 1, 1952 at the small island Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands. Its destructive power was several megatons of TNT. The blast, timed at 19:15 GMT, produced a light brighter than 1,000 suns and a heat wave felt 50 kilometres away. The Soviet Union detonated a hydrogen bomb in the megaton range in August of 1953. The US exploded a 15 megaton hydrogen bomb on March 1, 1954. It had a fireball of 4.8 km in diameter and created a huge mushroom-shaped cloud. (source)
An h-bomb is expected to be 700 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, during which more than 150,000 people died. But they didn’t die all at once. Many of them suffered terrible, lingering deaths of agony. Here is the breakdown of this from a UCLA report.
- Very large numbers of person were crushed in their homes and in the buildings in which they were working. Their skeletons could be seen in the debris and ashes for almost 1,500 meters from the center of the blast, particularly in the downwind directions.
- Large numbers of the population walked for considerable distances after the detonation before they collapsed and died.
- Large numbers developed vomiting and bloody and watery diarrhea (vomitus and bloody feces were found on the floor in many of the aid stations), associated with extreme weakness. They died in the first and second weeks after the bombs were dropped.
- During this same period, deaths from internal injuries and from burns were common. Either the heat from the fires or infrared radiation from the detonations caused many burns, particularly on bare skin or under dark clothing.
- After a lull without peak mortality from any special causes, deaths began to occur from purpura, which was often associated with epilation, anemia, and a yellowish coloration of the skin. The so-called bone marrow syndrome, manifested by a low white blood cell count and almost complete absence of the platelets necessary to prevent bleeding, was probably at its maximum between the fourth and sixth weeks after the bombs were dropped. (source)
Now, multiply the above by 700 times and you’ll have a good idea of the horrifying affects of a hydrogen bomb. If it were to strike a major population area in the United States, the death toll would be astounding.
This video shows a comparison of actual atomic and hydrogen bombs.
How large of an area would be affected by a hydrogen bomb?
According to the website National Terror Alert, created by the DHS, these are the distances at which the destruction would occur, using the Hiroshima bomb as a point of reference.
1 Megaton Surface Blast: Pressure Damage
The fission bomb detonated over Hiroshima had an explosive blast equivalent to 12,500 tons of TNT. A 1 megaton hydrogen bomb, hypothetically detonated on the earth’s surface, has about 80 times the blast power of that 1945 explosion.
Radius of destructive circle: 1.7 miles
12 pounds per square inch
At the center lies a crater 200 feet deep and 1000 feet in diameter. The rim of this crater is 1,000 feet wide and is composed of highly radioactive soil and debris. Nothing recognizable remains within about 3,200 feet (0.6 miles) from the center, except, perhaps, the remains of some buildings’ foundations. At 1.7 miles, only some of the strongest buildings — those made of reinforced, poured concrete — are still standing. Ninety-eight percent of the population in this area are dead.
Radius: 2.7 miles
Virtually everything is destroyed between the 12 and 5 psi rings. The walls of typical multi-story buildings, including apartment buildings, have been completely blown out. The bare, structural skeletons of more and more buildings rise above the debris as you approach the 5 psi ring. Single-family residences within this this area have been completely blown away — only their foundations remain. Fifty percent of the population between the 12 and 5 psi rings are dead. Forty percent are injured.
Radius: 4.7 miles
Any single-family residences that have not been completely destroyed are heavily damaged. The windows of office buildings have been blown away, as have some of their walls. The contents of these buildings’ upper floors, including the people who were working there, are scattered on the street. A substantial amount of debris clutters the entire area. Five percent of the population between the 5 and 2 psi rings are dead. Forty-five percent are injured.
Radius: 7.4 miles
Residences are moderately damaged. Commercial buildings have sustained minimal damage. Twenty-five percent of the population between the 2 and 1 psi rings have been injured, mainly by flying glass and debris. Many others have been injured from thermal radiation — the heat generated by the blast. The remaining seventy-five percent are unhurt. (source)
But it isn’t just the initial blast you’d have to be concerned about. The radioactive fallout would affect many more people further away from the blast during the first week.
1 Megaton Surface Blast: Fallout
One of the effects of nuclear weapons detonated on or near the earth’s surface is the resulting radioactive fallout. Immediately after the detonation, a great deal of earth and debris, made radioactive by the blast, is carried high into the atmosphere, forming a mushroom cloud. The material drifts downwind and gradually falls back to earth, contaminating thousands of square miles. This page describes the fallout pattern over a seven-day period.
Wind speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: due east
Time frame: 7 days
Distance: 30 miles
Much more than a lethal dose of radiation. Death can occur within hours of exposure. About 10 years will need to pass before levels of radioactivity in this area drop low enough to be considered safe, by U.S. peacetime standards.
Distance: 90 miles
A lethal dose of radiation. Death occurs from two to fourteen days.
Distance: 160 miles
Causes extensive internal damage, including harm to nerve cells and the cells that line the digestive tract, and results in a loss of white blood cells. Temporary hair loss is another result.
Distance: 250 miles
Causes a temporary decrease in white blood cells, although there are no immediate harmful effects. Two to three years will need to pass before radioactivity levels in this area drop low enough to be considered safe, by U.S. peacetime standards.
*Rem: Stands for “roentgen equivalent man.” This is a measurement used to quantify the amount of radiation that will produce certain biological effects. (source)
So, as you can see, a hydrogen bomb puts the destruction at a whole different level from the nuclear warheads that people expected where Kim Jong Un’s most devastating weapons. And sadly, this isn’t the only risk.
Could an H-bomb detonated at high altitude take down the American power grid?
Something that could potentially be even more deadly during the long-term is a hydrogen bomb that is detonated at high altitude, which would cause an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could devastate the electrical grid across a wide geographical swath.
And this weekend, Kim Jong Un directly threatened the United States with such an attack.
The news Sunday morning that North Korea had launched what appeared to be its sixth nuclear test and most powerful one to date is troubling enough.
But a statement from the rogue regime took things to a whole new level. The North said it had tested an H-bomb that was “a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.” (source)
In such an event, part of the United States could lose power indefinitely. Our infrastructure and devices would not be repairable. Everything would require replacement, which could take several years.
NOTE: For an excellent, non-sensational resource, I recommend anything written by Dr. Arthur T. Bradley, a NASA scientist and recurring speaker over at Preppers University. He has written numerous books and articles about the threat of an EMP. His book, Disaster Preparedness for EMP Attacks and Solar Storms, is a must read for anyone concerned about the possibility of this type of attack. In it, he dispels many rumor and myths about such an event and replaces them with facts based on his research with NASA.
It’s important to note that North Korea does have satellites that would be capable of an atmospheric detonation that would cause an electromagnetic pulse. In fact, two of the were over our country as recently as last month. At the time, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security and chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, warned:
“The EMP Commission has officially been warning about those satellites especially now that the (intelligence) community admits that North Korea can miniaturize warheads,” Pry stated. “Our argument all along has been that they could make weapons small enough to put on those satellites that pass over the United States on the optimum trajectory for an EMP attack on North America.”
“And they would obviously be a basis for a surprise EMP attack if North Korea wants to commit aggression against South Korea. Or to blackmail us if we were going to intervene to deliver on our security guarantees for Japan, South Korea or the Pacific.”
Pry said the satellites are orbiting at the “optimum height for putting an EMP field over all 48 contiguous United States.”
Pry warned that deploying satellites for the purpose of an EMP option against the U.S. “is exactly the kind of thing that he (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) would do. It would make strategic sense to do it. We do know that Kim Jong Un is a risk-taker.”
Pry surmised that the North Koreans may be utilizing the satellites for an attack plan pioneered by the Soviets during the Cold War to attack the U.S. with an EMP as part of a larger surprise assault aimed at crippling the U.S. military.
Unlike the Soviet plan, Pry opined, the North Koreans may be seeking to use an EMP attack to target “our electrical grid and our civilian critical infrastructure. And they only need one weapon to do that.” (source)
Zero Hedge reported on this worst-case scenario event:
However, it would probably lead to an unknown number of indirect deaths as hospitals and essential infrastructure lose power.
“The idea of an EMP attack is to detonate a nuclear weapon tens or hundreds of miles above the earth with the aim of knocking out power in much of the U.S. Unlike the U.S. atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, such a weapon wouldn’t directly destroy buildings or kill people. Instead, electromagnetic waves from the nuclear explosion would generate pulses to overwhelm the electric grid and electronic devices in the same way a lightning surge can destroy equipment.”
In the worst possible scenario, regional power grids could be offline for months, potentially costing many deaths as people would eventually start running out of necessities like food and medicine. Lawmakers and the US military have been aware of the EMP threat for many years, according to WSJ. IN a 2008 report commissioned by Congress, the authors warned that an EMP attack would lead to “widespread and long-lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of US society.”
In a report published last month, the Hill noted that the North could choose to carry out an EMP attack on Japan or South Korea as a more politically acceptable act of aggression. Such an attack could help the North accomplish its three most-important political goals, the Hill said.
“North Korea has nuclear-armed missiles and satellites potentially capable of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. EMP is considered by many the most politically acceptable use of a nuclear weapon, because the high-altitude detonation (above 30 kilometers) produces no blast, thermal, or radioactive fallout effects harmful to people.
EMP itself is harmless to people, destroying only electronics. But by destroying electric grids and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures, the indirect effects of EMP can kill far more people in the long-run than nuclear blasting a city. In this scenario, North Korea makes an EMP attack on Japan and South Korea to achieve its three most important foreign policy goals: reunification with South Korea, revenge upon Japan for World War II, and recognition of North Korea as a world power.” (source)
However, Anthony Furey, the author of Pulse Attack: The Real Story Behind The Secret Weapon That Can Destroy North America, believes that North Korea would not start out an attack like this on Guam, South Korea, or Japan, due to the ferocious response from the US military, but would strike the United States directly.
Conventional wisdom tells us that North Korea would be incredibly reticent to live up to its threats of launching a missile strike, nuclear or otherwise, on South Korea, Guam, Japan or elsewhere because the retaliation from the United States would be immediate and ferocious, effectively destroying the country and killing all of its leadership.
However, if Kim Jong Un’s first strike is a successful EMP attack against North America, this would largely shut down the ability of the U.S. to respond. While some elements of U.S. military infrastructure have been hardened for resilience against an EMP strike, there is no standardization across the board. Plus, civilian infrastructure is hardly protected, if at all. The United States and Canada would be in the dark and sitting ducks.
A handful of national security experts and legislators in the U.S. have attempted to sound the alarm about this troubling vulnerability but have largely been unsuccessful in getting regulations in place. The utilities industry claims it’s not its problem, but that of the military’s, something experts firmly dispute. (source)
Of course, a miscalculation by North Korea could lead to a ground strike instead of an atmospheric one, leading back to the first scenario we discussed. Really, with things so volatile, you should be preparing for all possible scenarios:
- Nuclear Preparedness Intensive interviews
- How to Prepare for a Nuclear Strike
- Getting Prepared for a Disaster (This includes an hour-long interview with Dr. Bradley, the EMP expert mentioned above)
- How to Use Potassium Iodide in a Nuclear Emergency (Free PDF)
- Getting Prepared for a Long-Term Scenario
Is the United States discussing a military response?
General James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, has suggested that a military response could be imminent.
“Our commitment among the allies are ironclad,” Mattis said. “Any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, a response both effective and overwhelming.”Mattis called on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to “take heed” of the UN Security Council’s unanimous position against North Korea’s nuclear program and again stressed the US military’s position.“We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, but as I said, we have many options to do so,” Mattis said. (source)
The problem with military action, though, is that both Russia and China have said that if the United States strikes first, they will retaliate. This, of course, would result in a potential global conflict with the world’s superpowers coming head to head.
Don’t be distracted while the United States digs itself out from under the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and holds its breath watching the uncertain path of Hurricane Irma. As devastating as those storms are and could be, we may have even more dire things to worry about.
Do you have knowledge about nuclear weapons?
My research comes from a variety of experts cited on the internet, but it’s purely theoretical for me. Do you have more information?
Please weigh in below in the comments section. Your information is very welcome. Please let us know where your knowledge comes from. (Do you/did you work in this field? Do you have a military background? A scientific background?) We’d love to hear from you.
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Please feel free to share any information from this site in part or in full, leaving all links intact, giving credit to the author and including a link to this website and the following bio. Daisy is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting, homeschooling blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. Daisy is the publisher of The Cheapskate's Guide to the Galaxy, a monthly frugality newsletter, and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com. She is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menagerie. You can find Daisy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.