We have all seen the familiar triangles in a yellow circle warning us of nuclear radiation, but what is the real danger we have to look and prepare for? Radiation is all around us, and we wade through it every time we venture out of doors, so what’s the big deal, where’s the threat?
The big deal is that we all could suffer a devastating blow if we are not prepared to defend and protect ourselves from such a threat. And this threat could come from many sources, not all of them an enemy. We have nuclear reactors in this nation that may at some point and time harbor an event such as we saw at the Three Mile Island reactor back in 1979. Granted, the accident could have been avoided, but not all accidents are un-avoidable. Some occur no matter what precautions we take to safeguard from them.
There are many more sources of threats from radiation related accidents beyond the reactor industry, but most people are not aware of the danger, and so they blithely trip along on their daily routines oblivious to the danger lurking in the shadows. Hundreds of hospitals, dozens of universities and the military bases around this nation all pose a risk of accidental contamination of the public. Most of the risk is very low level and would be restricted to narrowly defined areas, and thus easily confined and repaired, but there is another element that is just now beginning to become spoken of in the mainstream media and placed before the public.
Until recently, the threat of a terrorist element using radioactive material as a bomb component was largely unthinkable. Nuclear war was only possible between the Soviet Union and the United States, the only two countries in the world that could afford to wage such a war. Let’s examine the threats, and the potential or probability of their occurrence.
Starting out, we will reject the occurrence of what has become to be called a MAD war, or Mutually Assured Destruction war. During the Cold War era, the potential of such a conflict was very high, but today, the nations that are capable of such a war no longer have the desire to carry out a conflict that clearly benefits no one. In a MAD war both sides of the conflict lob ICBMs at each other until there are either no more missiles or everyone is dead, leaving both nations little more than nations cluttered with sterile and unlivable property. Neither side wins in a conflict that provides nothing to conquer.
Next on the list, and a threat that sees growing probability and potential would be the possible detonation of a nuclear device in our atmosphere. There are two potential risks here. One is the HEMP attack, or High altitude Electro Magnetic Pulse effect. This would be by far the worse in total damage, although the least costly in terms of human life. Essentially, what this type of device will do is to produce a large surge of electromagnetic waves that will produce induced voltage in varying ranges up to thousands of kilovolts, basically frying all solid state components that are not protected through surge suppression and ground filtering equipment or circuitry.
This image below from Wikipedia indicates the range of potential damage from a nuclear detonation at varying altitudes. Altitude, as well as magnitude determines the potential extent of damage from an EMP attack. The areas to be affected from such an attack are for the most part limited to line of sight, hence the resulting greater direct area of damage from greater altitude. As you can see, it would take an ICBM level missile to deliver a warhead to an altitude high enough to cripple our entire electrical infrastructure.
A missile of lesser ability would still be able to deliver a telling blow, but would not be capable of crippling our entire infrastructure by itself. However, the cascading failure of the national level grid systems would eliminate much of our industrial capability, at least for a while. Much of the determining factors would center on the blast proximity, as well as the altitude.
There are few nations today that could deliver a weapon to an altitude of three hundred miles, and still have it large enough to create an EMP of such a magnitude that would cause complete collapse of our electrical systems and equipment on a nationwide level. Even an altitude of 120 miles would be tough for most nations to accomplish. There are several nations which possess not only the equipment, but the knowledge to launch an attack that would reach at least 30 miles in altitude provided they could accomplish the logistical delivery of a weapon. And that possibility is very real today.
Russia, China, India, Japan Australia and the European Union are the only nations today that could launch an ICBM level attack against us. Would they do so? It is highly improbable that most of the nations on that list would dare attack us in such a manner because it would also financially devastate their own economies, and they, for the most part, have no ideological disparities with us that would provoke such a final attack.
China is the only national interest that is opposed to democracy with the budget and infrastructure to initiate a high level EMP, but they won’t do so because if they destroy the United States, they no longer have a viable economy in the world marketplace, and they know it. Instead, that more probable EMP threat would be of the low level type, instigated by one of the many rogue elements around the world today.
We’ll continue on with this discussion next time, and for you educational entertainment, don’t forget to view our latest presentation; “Surviving Under Atomic Attack” at http://www.survivingtimes.com.