Fifty-five years ago, the U.S. tested a nuclear weapon high above the atmosphere over the Pacific. At the time, my father -- a nuclear weapons engineer -- was listening on our ham radio.
When the device exploded, we heard nothing in Albuquerque. But, in Honolulu, 1000 miles from the detonation, the sky turned red as streetlights and telephones went out. EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) effects from the distant nuclear explosion had struck.
Today we hear concern that cities might be destroyed by North Korean nuclear tipped missiles, but Starfish Prime should alert us to a more imminent danger: EMP. North Korea can launch an EMP attack before it has developed nuclear missile technology, and EMP may be far more deadly.
An EMP disaster from a high-altitude blast seems like science fiction: There is a silent flash high in the sky, and everything using electricity just … stops. Cars stop, power goes out, the Internet dies, satellites quit working, landline and mobile phone systems go out, and computers are destroyed. In a moment, we are back to 1850, as was dramatized in William Forstchen's 2009 novel One Second After.