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Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! In military terminology, an EMP bomb detonated hundreds of kilometers above the earth's surface is known as a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) device. During the first United States nuclear test in 1945, electronic equipment was shielded due to Enrico Fermi's expectation of an electromagnetic pulse from the detonation. The high altitude nuclear tests of 1962, as described below, increased awareness of EMP beyond the original small population of nuclear weapons scientists and engineers.
Starfish Prime was the first successful test in the series of United States high-altitude nuclear tests in 1962 known as Operation Fishbowl.
The EMP damage of the Starfish Prime test was quickly repaired because of the ruggedness (compared to today) of the electrical and electronic infrastructure of Hawaii in 1962. The concept of the explosively pumped flux compression generator for generating a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse was conceived as early as 1951 by Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union,[14] but nations have usually kept their most recent work on non-nuclear EMP highly classified until the technology was old enough for similar ideas to be conceived by physicists in other nations. The case of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse differs from other kinds of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) in being a complex electromagnetic multi-pulse. The E1 component is produced when gamma radiation from the nuclear detonation knocks electrons out of the atoms in the upper atmosphere. The E2 component of the pulse has many similarities to the electromagnetic pulses produced by lightning.
The E3 component of the pulse is a very slow pulse, lasting tens to hundreds of seconds, that is caused by the nuclear detonation heaving the Earth's magnetic field out of the way, followed by the restoration of the magnetic field to its natural place. The strongest part of the pulse lasts for only a fraction of a second, but any unprotected electrical equipment — and anything connected to electrical cables, which act as giant lightning rods or antennae — will be affected by the pulse.
Although vacuum tubes are far more resistant to EMP than solid state devices, other components in vacuum tube circuitry can be damaged by EMP. If the aircraft carrying the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had been within the intense nuclear radiation zone when the bombs exploded over those cities, then they would have suffered effects from the charge separation (radial) EMP.
Beyond a certain altitude a nuclear weapon will not produce any EMP, as the gamma rays will have had sufficient distance to disperse. The mechanism for a 400 km high altitude burst EMP: gamma rays hit the atmosphere between 20–40 km altitude, ejecting electrons which are then deflected sideways by the Earth's magnetic field.
A high-altitude nuclear detonation produces an immediate flux of gamma rays from the nuclear reactions within the device. The pulse can easily span continent-sized areas, and this radiation can affect systems on land, sea, and air. The altitude indicated above is greater than that of the International Space Station and many low Earth orbit satellites.
Typical nuclear weapon yields used during Cold War planning for EMP attacks were in the range of 1 to 10 megatons (4.2 to 42 PJ)[26] This is roughly 50 to 500 times the sizes of the weapons the United States used in Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A unique and important aspect of nuclear EMP is that all of the components of the electromagnetic pulse are generated outside of the weapon.
For high-altitude nuclear explosions, this means that much of the EMP is actually generated at a large distance from the detonation (where the gamma radiation from the explosion hits the upper atmosphere). In other words, the electric field strength in the entire area that is affected by the EMP will be fairly uniform for weapons with a large gamma ray output; but for much smaller weapons, the electric field may fall off at a comparatively faster rate at large distances from the detonation point. It is the peak electric field of the EMP that determines the peak voltage induced in equipment and other electrical conductors on the ground, and most of the damage is determined by induced voltages. Non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse (NNEMP) is an electromagnetic pulse generated without use of nuclear weapons. NNEMP generators can be carried as a payload of bombs and cruise missiles, allowing construction of electromagnetic bombs with diminished mechanical, thermal and ionizing radiation effects and without the political consequences of deploying nuclear weapons.
The range of NNEMP weapons (non-nuclear electromagnetic bombs) is severely limited compared to nuclear EMP. A right front view of a Boeing E-4 advanced airborne command post (AABNCP) on the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) simulator (HAGII-C) for testing.
Information about the EMP simulators used by the United States during the latter part of the Cold War, along with more general information about electromagnetic pulse, are now in papers under the care of the SUMMA Foundation,[35] which is now hosted at the University of New Mexico.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, others also have speculated that the United States military used a Tomahawk Missile with a non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse warhead on other Iraqi targets.
A widely-read article by engineer and defense analyst Carlo Kopp, first published in 1996, stated that suitable materials and tools to create basic non-nuclear electromagnetic weapons are commonly available.
Typical modern scenarios seen in large numbers of news accounts and opinion articles speculate about the use of nuclear weapons by rogue states or terrorists in an EMP attack. Some rogue states have developed an ability to deliver a light missile payload to the necessary altitude for an EMP attack.


The United States EMP Commission was authorized by the United States Congress in Fiscal Year 2001, and re-authorized in Fiscal Year 2006. The United States EMP Commission has brought together a group of notable scientists and technologists to compile several reports. The EMP Commission sponsored a worldwide survey of foreign scientific and military literature to evaluate the knowledge, and possibly the intentions, of foreign states with respect to electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. Many foreign analysts–particularly in Iran, North Korea, China, and Russia–view the United States as a potential aggressor that would be willing to use its entire panoply of weapons, including nuclear weapons, in a first strike.
Russian and Chinese military scientists in open source writings describe the basic principles of nuclear weapons designed specifically to generate an enhanced-EMP effect, that they term "Super-EMP" weapons.
In non-technical writings about nuclear EMP, both in print and on the Internet, some common misconceptions about EMP are nearly always found. The E3 component of nuclear EMP that produces geomagnetically induced currents in very long electrical conductors is roughly proportional to the total energy yield of the weapon.
It has long been known that there are many ways to protect against nuclear EMP (or to quickly begin repairs where protection is not practical); but the United States EMP Commission determined that such protections are almost completely absent in the civilian infrastructure of the United States, and that even large sectors of the United States military services were no longer protected against EMP to the level that they were during the Cold War.
The interaction of photons, neutrons, electrons, heavy ions and protons with matter is well mastered by NUCLETUDES from both the understanding and modeling points of view. At last, it has to be noted that the in-house development of various software tools modeling these different phenomena has led NUCLETUDES to invest significantly in the development of innovative numerical methods.
These in-house software models have been validated through various experimental tests using NULETUDES’ own see test facilities as well as external test facilities (CEA,…). Nuclear electromagnetic bombs have three distinct time components that result from different physical phenomena.
The official technical history for that first nuclear test states, "All signal lines were completely shielded, in many cases doubly shielded. The larger scientific community became aware of the significance of the EMP problem after a series of three articles were published about nuclear electromagnetic pulse in 1981 by William J. The subsequent Operation Fishbowl tests gathered more data on the high-altitude EMP phenomenon. Realization of the potential impacts of EMP became more apparent to some scientists and engineers during the 1970s as more sensitive solid-state electronics began to come into widespread use.
The geomagnetic storm-like E3 pulse (from the test designated as "Test 184") even induced an electrical current surge in a long underground power line that caused a fire in the power plant in the city of Karaganda. The E1 component is a very brief but intense electromagnetic field that can quickly induce very high voltages in electrical conductors.
The electrons travel in a generally downward direction at relativistic speeds (more than 90 percent of the speed of light). Because of the similarities to lightning-caused pulses and the widespread use of lightning protection technology, the E2 pulse is generally considered to be the easiest to protect against. The E3 component has similarities to a geomagnetic storm caused by a very severe solar flare.[17][18] Like a geomagnetic storm, E3 can produce geomagnetically induced currents in long electrical conductors, which can then damage components such as power line transformers. The B-29 aircraft that delivered the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not lose power due to damage to their electrical or electronic systems. But this only occurs within the severe blast radius for detonations below about 10 km altitude. In deep space or on worlds with no magnetic field (the moon or Mars for example) there will be little or no EMP. These photons in turn produce high energy free electrons by Compton scattering at altitudes between (roughly) 20 and 40 km. The first recorded EMP incident accompanied a high-altitude nuclear test over the South Pacific and resulted in power system failures as far away as Hawaii.
Because of the nature of the pulse as a large, long, high powered, noisy spike, it is doubtful that there would be much protection if the explosion were seen in the sky just below the tops of hills or mountains.
Large weapons could have a dramatic impact on satellite operations and communications; smaller weapons have less such potential. In the thermonuclear Starfish Prime the fission yield was less than 100% to begin with, and then the thicker outer casing absorbed about 95% of the prompt gamma rays from the pusher around the fusion stage.
This causes the electric field from the EMP to be remarkably uniform over the large area affected. Within the range of gamma ray deposition, simple laws no longer hold as the air is ionised and there are other EMP effects, such as a radial electric field due to the separation of Compton electrons from air molecules, together with other complex phenomena. There are a number of devices that can achieve this objective, ranging from a large low-inductance capacitor bank discharged into a single-loop antenna or a microwave generator to an explosively pumped flux compression generator.
In that article, Kopp said, "The threat of electromagnetic bomb proliferation is very real."[30] Although Kopp's article mentions nuclear EMP, the article was mostly about non-nuclear EMP weapons.


Nuclear weapons in general have a much heavier missile payload, however advanced weapons design enables larger weapon yields with lighter weight. In 2008, the EMP Commission released the Critical National Infrastructures Report.[28] This report describes, in as much detail as practical, the likely consequences of a nuclear EMP on civilian infrastructures.
The survey found that the physics of EMP phenomenon and the military potential of EMP attack are widely understood in the international community, as reflected in official and unofficial writings and statements. They perceive the United States as having contingency plans to make a nuclear EMP attack, and as being willing to execute those plans under a broad range of circumstances. These widely-repeated misconceptions have led to a very considerable amount of confusion about the subject. As stated in the "History" section above, nuclear EMP from a nuclear air burst has been known since 1945. The other components of nuclear EMP are less likely to be dependent on total energy yield of the weapon.
The public statements of the physicists and engineers working in the EMP field tend to emphasize the importance of making electronic equipment and electrical components resistant to EMP — and of keeping adequate spare parts on hand, and in the proper location, to enable prompt repairs to be made.[18][28][47] The United States EMP Commission did not look at the civilian infrastructures of other nations.
Effects of an EMP device depend on the altitude of the detonation, energy yield, interactions with the earth's magnetic field, and shielding of targets. These new calculations, combined with the accelerating reliance on EMP-sensitive microelectronics, heightened awareness that the EMP threat could be a very significant problem.
The E1 component causes most of its damage by causing electrical breakdown voltages to be exceeded.
This essentially produces a large pulse of electrical current vertically in the upper atmosphere over the entire affected area.
This is simply because electrons (ejected from the air by gamma rays) are stopped quickly in normal air for bursts below roughly 10 km (about 6 miles), so they do not get a chance to be significantly deflected by the Earth's magnetic field (since the deflection causes the powerful EMP seen in high altitude bursts). These electrons are then trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, giving rise to an oscillating electric current. A large device detonated at 400–500 km (250 to 312 miles) over Kansas would affect all of the continental U.S. Thermonuclear weapons are also less efficient at producing EMP because the first stage can pre-ionize the air[21] which becomes conductive and hence rapidly shorts out the electron Compton currents generated by the final, larger yield thermonuclear stage. For a surface burst, absorption of gamma rays by air would limit the range of gamma ray deposition to approximately 10 miles, while for a burst in the lower-density air at high altitudes, the range of deposition would be far greater. The effect of small e-bombs has proven to be sufficient for certain terrorist or military operations.
It is impossible to know what kind of capabilities such terrorists might acquire, especially if they are aided by state sponsors with access to advanced technology. It is difficult to know if any particular rogue state has the necessary combination of advanced missile technology and nuclear weapons technology to perform an effective nuclear EMP attack over an industrialized country. An offshore detonation at high altitude, by contrast, would present less technical difficulty and would disrupt both an entire coast and regions hundreds of miles inland (e.g.
Although this report was directed specifically toward the United States, most of the information can obviously be generalized to the civilian infrastructure of other industrialized countries. The survey of open sources over the past decade finds that knowledge about EMP and EMP attack is evidenced in at least Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Egypt, Taiwan, Sweden, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran, North Korea, China and Russia. The unique characteristics of high-altitude nuclear EMP have been known since at least 1962. The E1 component, in particular, is proportional to prompt gamma ray output; but EMP levels can be strongly affected if more than one burst of gamma rays occurs in a short time period. E1 is the component that can destroy computers and communications equipment and is too fast for ordinary lightning protectors.
This current is asymmetric in general and gives rise to a rapidly rising radiated electromagnetic field called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).
Hence, small pure fission weapons with thin cases are far more efficient at causing EMP than most megaton bombs. Because the electrons are trapped essentially simultaneously, a very large electromagnetic source radiates coherently. This multi-stage process is completed within a small fraction of a second, but it nevertheless requires a finite length of time. The first fission reaction is usually of relatively small yield, and the gamma rays produced by the first stage pre-ionize atmospheric molecules in the stratosphere.




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