This site is devoted to a discussion of the real science and technology behind the Dark Angel television series, although many readers of the 2009 book One Second After are here for the extensive information about nuclear electromagnetic pulse.
If you are visiting this page only for the EMP information, you may want to visit the Futurescience Main EMP Page, which is updated much more frequently than this page.
This page is written by Jerry Emanuelson, B.S.E.E. of Futurescience, LLC.
Dark Angel was another one of those science fiction shows that became more popular after it was cancelled. Since it was cancelled in 2002, it has often been shown in reruns on the cable/satellite channels, and all of the shows are available on DVD. Dark Angel deals with all of the issues that are likely to affect us most during the first half of the 21st century, including the threat of EMP attacks, genetic engineering, stem cells, nano-medicine, and bigotry against people who have been genetically or technologically modified.
I'm devoting a lot of space to the topic of EMP because it is so mysterious to most people and so misunderstood -- and is also the subject of so much misinformation. (It is a persistent problem that many people want to ignore the science and make it into a political issue.) There are separate pages on EMP personal protection, Soviet nuclear EMP tests in 1962, and on other topics, including a separate page of notes and technical references. Much of the information here describes the possible effects of EMP on the continental United States, but the information can be used to describe the effects on any industrialized country.
In testimony before the United States Congress House Armed Services Committee on October 7, 1999, the eminent physicist Dr. Lowell Wood, in talking about Starfish Prime and the related EMP-producing nuclear tests in 1962, stated,
"Most fortunately, these tests took place over Johnston Island in the mid-Pacific rather than the Nevada Test Site, or electromagnetic pulse would still be indelibly imprinted in the minds of the citizenry of the western U.S., as well as in the history books. As it was, significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical systems throughout the Hawaiian Islands, over 800 miles away from ground zero. The origin and nature of this damage was successfully obscured at the time -- aided by its mysterious character and the essentially incredible truth."
The Starfish Prime Nuclear Testfrom nearly 900 miles away
Although nuclear EMP was known since the earliest days of nuclear weapons testing, the magnitude of the effects of nuclear EMP were not known until a 1962 test of a thermonuclear weapon in space called the Starfish Prime test. The Starfish Prime test knocked out some of the electrical and electronic components in Hawaii, which was 897 miles (1445 kilometers) away from the nuclear explosion. The damage was very limited compared to what it would be today because the electrical and electronic components of 1962 were much more resistant to the effects of EMP than the sensitive microelectronics of today. The magnitude of the effect of an EMP attack on the United States will remain unknown until one actually happens. Unless the device is very small, it is likely that it would knock out the nearly the entire electrical power grid of the United States. It would destroy many other electrical and (especially) electronic devices. Larger microelectronic devices, and devices that are connected to antennas or to the power grid at the time of the pulse, would be especially vulnerable.
The Starfish Prime test was detonated at 59 minutes and 51 seconds before midnight, Honolulu time, on the night of July 8, 1962. (Official documents give the date as July 9 because that was the date at the Greenwich meridian, known as Coordinated Universal Time.) It was considered an important scientific event, and was monitored by hundreds of scientific instruments across the Pacific and in space. Although an electromagnetic pulse was expected, an accurate measurement of the size of the pulse could not be made immediately because a respected physicist had made calculations that hugely underestimated the size of the EMP. Consequently, the amplitude of the pulse went completely off the scale at which the scientific instruments near the test site had been set. Although many of the scientific instruments malfunctioned, a large amount of data was obtained and analyzed in the following months.
When the 1.44 megaton W49 thermonuclear warhead detonated at an altitude of 250 miles (400 km), it made no sound. There was a very brief and very bright white flash in the sky that witnesses described as being like a huge flashbulb going off in the sky. The flash could be easily seen even through the overcast sky at Kwajalein Island, about 2000 km. to the west-southwest.
After the white flash, the entire sky glowed green over the mid-Pacific for a second, then a bright red glow formed at "sky zero" where the detonation had occurred. Long-range radio communication was disrupted a period of time ranging from a few minutes to several hours after the detonation (depending upon the frequency and the radio path being used).
In a phenomenon unrelated to the EMP, the radiation cloud from the Starfish Prime test subsequently destroyed at least 5 United States satellites and one Soviet satellite. The most well-known of the satellites was Telstar I, the world's first active communications satellite. Telstar I was launched the day after the Starfish Prime test, and it did make a dramatic demonstration of the value of active communication satellites with live trans-Atlantic television broadcasts before it orbited through radiation produced by Starfish Prime (and other subsequent nuclear tests in space). Telstar I was damaged by the radiation cloud, and failed completely a few months later.
Nuclear EMP is actually an electromagnetic multi-pulse. The EMP is usually described in terms of 3 components. The E1 pulse is a very fast pulse that generates very high voltages. E1 is the component that destroys computers and communications equipment and is too fast for ordinary lightning protectors. The E2 component of the pulse is the easiest to protect against, and has similarities in strength and timing to the electrical 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 E3 component has similarities to a geomagnetic storm caused by a very severe solar flare.
In writings on the internet, there is nearly always much confusion about the very different aspects of the various components of nuclear EMP. In addition, there is much confusion in distinguishing high-altitude nuclear EMP, non-nuclear EMP weapons and solar geomagnetic storms. There are very large differences among these very different electromagnetic disturbances; although there are many similarities linking solar geomagnetic storms and the E3 component (but not the other components) of high-altitude nuclear EMP.
It is important to note that nuclear EMP cannot be understood without an understanding of the differences between the E1 and E3 components of nuclear EMP. Many otherwise intelligent technologists have caused an enormous amount of confusion by making statements without any clear understanding of the vastly different components generated by nuclear EMP. For a more detailed discussion of these components, see the E1-E2-E3 Page.
The E1 component of the pulse is the component that is the most frequently discussed component. The gamma rays from a nuclear detonation in space can travel great distances. When these gamma rays hit the upper atmosphere, they knock out electrons in the atoms in the upper atmosphere, which travel in a generally downward direction at relativistic speeds. This forms what is essentially a very large coherent vertical burst of electrical current in the upper atmosphere over the entire affected area. This current interacts with the Earth's magnetic field to produce a strong electromagnetic pulse, which originates a few miles overhead, even though the nuclear detonation point may be a thousand miles away or more. Since the E1 pulse is generated locally, even though the original gamma ray energy source may be in space at a great distance away, the pulse can cover extremely large areas, and with an extremely large EMP field over the entire affected area.
Illustration above is from the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency about the E1 component of nuclear electromagnetic pulse. The source region is the region of the upper atmosphere where gamma radiation from the weapon knocks out electrons from atoms in the atmosphere, which travel in a generally downward direction at roughly 94 percent of the speed of light, and are acted upon by the Earth's magnetic field to generate a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy. This source region is in the middle of the stratosphere. (In the map on the right side of the illustration, HOB is the height of the nuclear burst in kilometers.)
The magnitude of a nuclear EMP over the United States would be much larger than the tests in the Pacific would indicate. For any particular weapon, the magnitude of the all of the components of an EMP are roughly proportional to the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. The Earth's magnetic field over the center of the continental United States is about twice the strength as at the location of the Starfish Prime test.
See the separate article on the high-altitude nuclear tests of Operation Fishbowl.
Although Starfish Prime was a 1.44 megaton thermonuclear weapon, it was actually extremely inefficient at producing EMP. Much smaller nuclear fission weapons, requiring far less expertise, would be much more efficient at producing EMP, especially the very fast E1 component. In general, the simpler the nuclear weapon, the more efficient it is at producing EMP. (See the the notes on EMP page.) Thermonuclear weapons (so-called hydrogen bombs) are very inefficient at generating the fast-rise-time E1 pulse. (Weapons with a high energy yield are much better at generating the slower E3 pulse that can damage transformers in the power grid, which would take years to replace. This E3 pulse can induce large currents even in long underground lines. Solar superstorms can cause the same type of damage.)
Several countries have produced single-stage nuclear weapons with energy yields of well over 100 kilotons. These would be much more efficient at producing EMP than the Starfish Prime detonation. (The very first nuclear weapon tested by France had a yield of 70 kilotons). In the early 1950s, the United States had a stockpile of 90 of the Mark 18 500 kiloton single-stage fission bombs that would have made very effective EMP weapons, even though very little was known about EMP at the time. The only actual test of the Mark 18 bomb was done at the Pacific Ocean test range on November 16, 1952 at an altitude of only 1480 feet (450 meters), so nothing was known about its possibilities for high-altitude EMP. (Later analysis showed that the weapon yield was closer to 540 kilotons, higher than its design yield of 500 kilotons.) By now, some countries undoubtedly have very advanced enhanced-EMP nuclear weapons, although these details are highly classified.
The Mark 18 bomb, tested in 1952, was also known as the super oralloy bomb. It was made of a spherical shell of very highly-enriched uranium surrounded by a sophisticated symmetrical implosion system. Although it is often described as a very advanced device, it was designed by people who did not have computers of a power that is anything even approaching the power of computer that you are using to read this web page. More than a half-century ago, at least 90 of these bombs were built by the United States. In 1952, they were trying to conserve the highly-enriched uranium in the stockpile, so the Mark 18 was surrounded with a natural uranium tamper. Anyone making a similar weapon for EMP use could probably greatly enhance its EMP effects by using a tamper made of enriched uranium and by using a relatively thin outer casing made of an aluminum alloy. There are also techniques for increasing the energy of the gamma rays beyond the levels available in first and second generation nuclear weapons. These techniques would increase the electric field of the EMP beyond the old maximum of 50,000 volts per meter.
Today, if just one of these 500 kiloton bombs like the Mark 18 were detonated 300 miles above the central United States, the economy of the country would be essentially destroyed instantaneously. Very little of the country's electrical or electronic infrastructure would still be functional. (This is not to say that every device would be destroyed, but the interdependence of different electrical and electronic infrastructures makes it possible to stop nearly all economic activity with only limited damage to critical infrastructures.) It would likely be months or years before the electrical grid could be repaired because of the destruction of large numbers of the largest transformers in the electrical power grid. Spares for these large and very heavy transformers are not kept on hand, and they are no longer made in the United States. Several countries today have the ability to produce a weapon similar to this 1952 bomb, and send it to the necessary altitude. (England tested an even larger single-stage weapon with a yield of 720 kilotons, called Orange Herald, on May 31, 1957.) The number of countries with this ability will undoubtedly be increasing in the coming years.
The instantaneous destruction of the power grid would occur primarily because of the widespread use of solid-state SCADAs (supervisory control and data acquisition devices) in the power grid. These would be destroyed by the E1 pulse, but could probably be replaced within a few weeks. The greater problem would be in re-starting the power grid. (No procedures have ever been developed for a "black start" of the entire power grid. Starting a large power generating station actually requires electricity.) The greatest problem would be the loss of many critical large power transformers from geomagnetically induced currents, for which no replacements could be obtained for at least a few years. The loss of many of these power transformers would greatly complicate the re-start of the parts of the grid that could be more quickly repaired.
The consequences of the potential dangers to the electric power grid have changed dramatically over the past few decades -- as the availability of electricity has changed from being a convenience to something upon which our lives now depend. This transition of electricity from a convenience to a necessity for sustaining human life has happened so gradually that most of us haven't noticed this profound change. The knowledge and the technology of earlier times for surviving for long periods of time without electricity has been mostly lost in modern societies.
By mentioning the 1952 Mark 18 bomb, I do not want to imply that countries developing nuclear weapons would start with such an old technology. New automobile companies do not start with a Stanley Steamer or the Model T; and new radio companies do not start with Marconi circuits and Fleming valves. Modern techniques and materials, as well as advanced computing power, enable new nuclear weapons projects to leapfrog far past the Manhattan Project. A related fallacy is the belief that, because of the difficulty that the United States and the old Soviet Union had in going from basic fission weapons to thermonuclear weapons, all nations would experience similar difficulties and delays. Producing basic fission weapons requires a significant industrial capacity to produce the fissionable material. Scaling up from there just requires computing power and knowledge.
Many years after he left the nuclear weapons laboratories, the principal designer of the Mark 18 bomb wrote an article for Scientific American describing, in general terms, how specific effects of nuclear weapons (including EMP) can be greatly enhanced, and how such effects can be concentrated in one direction from the detonation. (See Scientific American, Theodore B. Taylor "Third-Generation Nuclear Weapons", pages 30-39. Vol. 256, No. 4. April, 1987.)
The Soviet Union got its surprise introduction to the severity of nuclear EMP effects over a much more heavily populated area than the Pacific Ocean. The most damaging nuclear EMP event in history (so far), much worse than the Starfish Prime test, occurred in October of 1962 over central Asia. Written documents give the time and date as 3:41 GMT/UTC on the morning of October 22, 1962. The warhead was launched from Kapustin Yar on a Soviet R-12 missile. Although the primary purpose of the test was to discover the effects of EMP on certain military systems, the magnitude of some of the effects on the civilian infrastructure were quite unexpected.
A few hours after the sun rose in Kazakhstan on that cloudy October morning, the Soviet Union detonated a 300 kiloton thermonuclear warhead in space at an altitude of 290 kilometers (about 180 miles) roughly over the city of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan. The test was generally known only as Test 184 (although some Soviet documents refer to it as K-3). It knocked out a major 1000-kilometer (600-mile) underground power line running from Astana (then called Aqmola), the capital city of Kazakhstan, to the city of Almaty. Several fires were reported. In the city of Karagandy, the EMP started a fire in the city's electrical power plant, which was connected to the long underground power line.
The EMP also knocked out a major 570 kilometer long overhead telephone line by inducing currents of 1500 to 3400 amperes in the line. (The line was separated into several sub-lines connected by repeater stations.) There were numerous gas-filled overvoltage protectors and fuses along the telephone line. All of the overvoltage protectors fired, and all of the fuses on the line were blown. The EMP damaged radios at 600 kilometers (360 miles) from the test and knocked out a radar 1000 kilometers (600 miles) from the detonation. Some military diesel generators were also damaged. The repeated damage to diesel generators from the E1 component of the pulse after the series of high-altitude tests was the most surprising aspect of the damage for the Soviet scientists.
Subsequent analysis has shown that the warhead used in the 1962 Soviet test was particularly ineffective at generating EMP. If the W49 warhead used in the U.S. Starfish Prime test had been used in the Soviet tests, the EMP damage over Kazakhstan would have been far greater.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union detonated EMP-generating nuclear weapons tests in space during the darkest days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world was already on the brink of nuclear war.
The Soviet Union detonated additional 300 kiloton weapons over Kazakhstan on October 28 and November 1, 1962. The United States detonated a relatively small nuclear weapon (probably about 7 kilotons) in space over the Pacific on October 20, 1962, and also detonated 410 kiloton nuclear weapons in space over the Pacific on October 26 and November 1, 1962. (During the period of October 13 to November 1, 1962 there were 16 Soviet and 6 United States above-ground nuclear explosions.) Two people suffered retinal burns when they looked toward the nighttime the flash of the October 26 (Bluegill Triple Prime) detonation directly overhead, which occurred at an altitude of 50 kilometers. (Due to a guidance system malfunction, the October 26 detonation occurred almost directly above Johnston Island.)
Johnston Island is now somewhat larger than it was in 1962 (due to a dredging project in 1964), and the airport is now closed. There have been at least three launch pad sites on Johnston Island for high-altitude nuclear tests. The 1958 tests (Hardtack-Teak and Hardtack-Orange) were launched from one end of the island, and the Operation Fishbowl tests, including Starfish Prime, were launched from the other end. After the Bluegill Prime launch resulted in a catastrophic explosion shortly after the successful Starfish Prime test, the destroyed launch pad was re-built, along with a spare launch pad. You can see the current (unoccupied) island in this Wikimapia satellite view of Johnston Island.
Most of the EMP data on the United States Bluegill Triple Prime, Checkmate and Kingfish high altitude tests of 1962, as well as the Hardtack-Teak and Hardtack-Orange tests of 1958 remains classified decades after the tests were completed. The secrecy regarding these tests poses a danger to the United States since it does not allow vulnerable United States citizens to fully educate themselves about the effects of weapons that could have a dramatic effect on their lives in the future.
Test 184 was launched from Russian territory about 30 miles from the Kazakhstan border. If Test 184 were to be duplicated today using the same launch and detonation points, it would probably be considered as a nuclear attack against another country. (At the time, of course, Kazakhstan was a part of the Soviet Union.)
There is a separate page with many more details about the Soviet nuclear EMP tests in 1962.
This site is written by an electronics engineer who has been concerned about the possibility of an EMP attack on the United States for decades. We are entering a period of special vulnerability to EMP in the coming years, with the fictional June 1, 2009 Dark Angel EMP attack marking a point in time that is close to the beginning of a period of years when the U.S. is most likely to be the victim of a pulse attack. (Among Dark Angel fans, June 1, 2009 has long been called the Day of the Pulse.) Most people who have some knowledge in this subject, and who have given some serious thought to the problem, consider the probability of an EMP attack on the United States during the next ten years at somewhere between 20 and 70 percent. (My own guess is that the probability of a long-term loss of much of the world's power grid from a solar superstorm is probably much larger than the chance of a nuclear EMP attack on the United States.)
The time that it would take to recover from an EMP attack has generally been estimated to be anywhere from two months to ten years or more. There would almost certainly be a time of great economic hardship. Whether this time of economic hardship is of short or long duration will depend upon the reaction of the American people. In widespread power outages of the past in the United States, people have reacted with behavior ranging from rioting and looting (as many did during the July 13, 1977 New York power outage) to patiently waiting for the crisis to be over (as has occurred with some more recent power outages such as the widespread August 14, 2003 outage in the northeastern U.S.).
If the recovery period were long, and especially if electronic communication were down for a period of months, civilization in the United States could reach a tipping point where a 10+ year depression, with the conditions depicted in Dark Angel, could actually occur. Many people who have thought about the problem believe that the Dark Angel scenario is actually overly optimistic.
A thin-cased 100 kiloton weapon optimized for gamma ray production (or even the relatively-primitive super oralloy bomb of more than 56 years ago) detonated 250 to 300 miles above Nebraska, would destroy just about every unprotected electronic device in the continental United States, southern Canada and northern Mexico. Such a weapon would also knock out 70 to 100 percent of the electrical grid in this very large area. Nearly all unprotected electronic communications systems would be knocked out. In the best of circumstances, if the weapons were very large, as completely unprepared for such an event as we are now, reconstruction would take at least three years because of the destruction of large numbers of the largest transformers in the electrical power grid. Spares for these extremely heavy transformers are not kept on hand, and they are no longer made in the United States.
The more that preparations are made for an EMP attack, the less severe the long-term consequences are likely to become. Being ready for an EMP attack would not cost a lot, and the benefits would include a much higher reliability of the electrical and electronic infrastructure, even if a nuclear EMP attack never occurred. Adequate preparation and protection could keep recovery time to a month or two, but such preparations have never been made.
Hardening the electronic and electrical infrastructure of the United States against an EMP attack is the best way to assure that such an attack does not occur. Leaving ourselves as totally vulnerable as we are now makes the United States a very tempting target for this kind of attack.
By not protecting its electrical and electronic infrastructure against nuclear EMP, the United States invites and encourages nuclear proliferation. These unprotected infrastructures allow countries without a nuclear weapons program to gain the capability to effectively destroy the United States with one, or a few, relatively simple nuclear weapons.
Severe solar storms can cause current overloads on the power grid that are very similar to the slower E3 component of a nuclear electromagnetic pulse. There is good reason to believe that the past century of strong human reliance on the electrical systems has also, fortunately for us, been an unusually quiet period for solar activity. We may not always be so lucky. In 1859, a solar flare produced a geomagnetic storm that was many times greater than anything that has occurred since the electrical grid has been in place. We know something about the electrical disruption that the 1859 Carrington event caused because of the destruction that it caused on telegraph systems in Europe and North America. Many people who have studied the 1859 event believe that if such a geomagnetic storm were to occur today, it would shut down the entire electrical grid of the United States. It is likely that such a geomagnetic storm would destroy most of the largest transformers in the electrical grid. Protection against nuclear EMP is also protection against many kinds of unpredictable natural phenomena that could be catastrophic.
Although it is possible that a nuclear EMP attack will never occur, a solar superstorm that will completely shut down the electrical grid (for a very long period of time) almost certainly will eventually occur unless adequate protections are put in place. For a comprehensive recent report on the effects of geomagnetic storms and the EMP E3 component, see Severe Space Weather Events -- Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts by the National Research Council of the United States National Academies. A solar storm of the size of the 1859 event, or even a smaller geomagnetic storm that occurred on May 14-15 in 1921, could simultaneously knock out the power grids of the United States, Canada, northern Europe and Australia, with recovery times of 4 to 10 years (since the solar storm would burn up large transformers worldwide, for which very few spares exist.)
For a map of the locations of the most highly at-risk power grid transformers in the United States, see this page from the 2008 Report on Severe Space Weather Events.
It is important to understand that severe solar storms produce only the E3 component that burns out power grid transformers and induce DC-like currents in very long electrical conductors. Solar storms do not produce the fast E1 component that can be so damaging to electronics. Some astronomical phenomena can produce a gamma ray burst that could produce an extremely large E1 pulse, but those are extremely rare and only hit the Earth on time scales of every several million to hundreds of millions of years. Solar storms can damage satellites, and therefore satellite communications, but the only direct harm to electronics equipment on the ground comes from the loss of electrical power.
A page has been developed about the things that individuals can do to help protect themselves against the EMP threat -- and there is much that individuals can do.
A part of the U.S. military system is protected against EMP. Nearly all of the commercial sector in the United Statesis not protected. Most data backups of commercial systems are protected from just about every other threat, but not protected against EMP; and most backups are located within the area likely to be affected by the EMP attack. Computer systems and the information they contain are especially vulnerable. As Max says in the narration in the first episode of Dark Angel, " . . . the electromagnetic pulse turned all the one and zeros into plain old zeros . . ." An EMP attack would literally send thousands of small and mid-sized businesses in the United States into bankruptcy in less than a millisecond. Although computer hard drives would not be erased, the electronics in hard drives that are not specifically protected against EMP would be destroyed. Also, some of the data would be corrupted on any computer hard drives that were spinning at the time of the EMP attack.
Nearly all broadcast stations, especially television stations, would go off the air. Due to the high level of computerized automation, the equipment in most radio and television studios would be so completely destroyed that most commercial stations would be damaged beyond repair. Radio broadcast studios are actually more vulnerable to permanent damage than many portable radio receivers.
In the current situation, broadcast television transmitters would actually be more easily repairable than studio equipment. With the transition to digital television broadcasting in the United States, the digital encoders would be the extremely weak link in the fragile digital television broadcast chain. It is likely that a few FM stations could get back on the air within a week of the EMP attack if emergency broadcasts were originated from the FM transmitter sites, but they would only be on until fuel for their generator ran out, and some standby generators would be destroyed by the pulse.
A nuclear EMP attack would likely make a permanent change the structure of television broadcasting in the United States since it would not be financially feasible to re-build most local television stations (except possibly in the largest cities). The television broadcast re-build would probably be with a satellite and cable infrastructure, with local news being provided by subsidiaries of national news companies over their national freshly-EMP-hardened post-pulse infrastructure. An all-fiber-optic internet would assume greatly increased importance. Making predictions about what a post-pulse world would be like is very difficult, though, since a severe EMP would cause a level of destruction to the electrical and electronic infrastructure that would make the United States incapable of supporting anything close to its present population.
Since this website was started, the awareness of the EMP problem has increased significantly. A new emergency broadcast system in the United States known as IPAWS is currently under development. According to a statement of Damon Penn, a DHS official, made to a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 8, 2011, a limited number of critical radio stations are being retrofitted with some EMP protection. The EMP protected stations are the ones that are known as Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations:
"The PEP system is a nationwide network of broadcast stations and other entities that is used to distribute a message from the President or designated national authorities in the event of a national emergency. The IPAWS Program Management Office continues to expand the number of PEP Stations across the U.S. In August 2009, the system originally had 36 PEP stations providing direct coverage to 67 percent of the American people. Currently, there are 49 operational PEP Stations and five PEP Stations under construction, resulting in direct coverage of 75 percent of the American people. By the end of 2012, the number of PEP Stations will increase to 77 and will directly cover over 90 percent of the American people.
"New PEP Stations use a standard configuration, saving maintenance costs and ensuring an ease of movement between stations. The stations have double-walled fuel containers with spill containment and a modern fuel management system and Electromagnetic Pulse-protected backup power and transmitters. Legacy stations are being retrofitted to meet current PEP Station resiliency standards."
In the Dark Angel series, the vehicles appear to be mostly pre-1980 and post-2009 models. There is a good reason for this. Many, but not all, conventional gasoline vehicles produced since around 1980 would not function after an EMP attack due to their dependence upon electronics. This would obviously produce a huge problem for the United States after an EMP attack. Merely moving disabled vehicles off the road would be a major undertaking. Non-functioning traffic lights would add to the traffic problem.
See the page on EMP and motor vehicles.
Many of the effects of nuclear EMP are very difficult to predict on the 21st century United States. Many vehicles that one would expect to be disabled by an EMP due to their dependence on sensitive electronics might be shielded well enough to continue to operate. Automotive electronic ignition systems in general are much better shielded and protected against EMP than other electronics. (After all, the purpose of an electronic ignition is to make high-voltage sparks.) Circuits in the automobile outside of the electronic ignition are actually the most vulnerable. Actual tests on vehicles in simulators have been very inconsistent. Even if only ten percent of the automobiles on the highways during the day were abruptly disabled, the resultant traffic jams would be nearly incomprehensible. (Having ten percent of the cars suddenly disabled might actually be more chaotic than having nearly all of them suddenly disabled.) Of course, there is no practical way to do a real nuclear EMP test. Even a nuclear test in space over the Pacific would likely do billions of dollars in damage to today's electrical and electronic infrastructure in the Pacific region.
Tests done on 37 automobiles (that used electronic ignition systems) by the United States EMP Commission showed that all of the tested cars would still run after a simulated EMP, although most sustained some (mostly nuisance) electronic damage. Individuals associated with the EMP Commission have stated that their tests on vehicles were somewhat misleading since the EMP simulator pulses were started at low levels and repeated until the vehicle experienced some sort of electronic upset. After that point was reached, the vehicle was not tested at higher levels since the vehicles were borrowed, and the Commission was liable for any damage to the vehicles. So we don't know at what point the automobiles would have been permanently damaged.
Additional tests were done on 18 trucks, ranging from light pickup trucks to large diesel trucks. Results were generally similar to the tests on automobiles, although one pickup could not be re-started at all after the simulated EMP and had to be towed to a garage for repairs.
Reports about the effects of the 1962 Starfish Prime test that have been declassified in recent years state that some of the automobiles in Hawaii had their old non-electronic ignition systems damaged by the EMP, so automobile damage may be much higher that we previously thought. Most of the people whose cars were damaged by the Starfish Prime test probably never related their car ignition problems to the nuclear test. The repeated damage to military diesel generators in the 1962 Soviet nuclear EMP tests indicates that some of the electrical damage doesn't show up right away. Although many people would like to know exactly which vehicles would continue to function after an EMP, the number of variables are enormous, and include the orientation of the vehicle with respect to the detonation point at the particular time that the device is detonated.
Even for vehicles that are not disabled by an EMP attack, some very bizarre things might happen. I have had the experience myself of getting locked out of my vehicle at a mountaintop transmitter site by RF fields. In that case, RF electromagnetic energy from high-power transmitters caused the doors to lock while the keys were in the ignition and the engine was running. Of course, this occurred during one of the few times that I didn't have an extra set of keys with me. I have also heard of windshield wipers suddenly coming on in recent-model vehicles when driven near high-power radio transmitters.
In addition to large-area (nearly continent-wide) effect of nuclear EMP attacks, there is an imminent threat from much smaller electromagnetic weapons that could do only localized damage. Many of these are relatively easy to construct and are very likely to be used in coming years in the U.S. by terrorists, as well as by ordinary vandals. An electromagnetic truck bomb in a small truck or van would not necessarily destroy the truck, which might be able to drive away, but could do millions of dollars in damage to the computer systems inside a building. (See my page on non-nuclear means of EMP generation.)
An example of a non-nuclear EMP device is the one being marketed by Eureka Aerospace, which is described, with a video, at the Physorg site. These devices are designed to destroy the vital electronics in automobiles. Although these devices can be beneficial in many cases, in the wrong hands they could cause enormous destruction at the rate of millions of dollars in damage per hour.
A nuclear EMP attack would knock out most, if not all, of the electric power grid. The extent of the electrical grid damage would depend upon the size of the bomb. Full repair of the power grid would take anywhere from two months to three years or more. Many components such as large transformers, which are normally resistant to large voltage transients, would be destroyed by the DC-like current induced by the E3 component of the pulse when they are connected to long copper wires. The design life of the transformers in the United States power grid is 40 years, but the average age of these transformers is already more than 42 years (and some are much older). If power companies were to keep adequate spare parts on hand, the repair time could be kept closer to the two-month time frame. Adequate parts are not currently being kept on hand, and, in most cases, there are very long lead times for replacement parts for the electrical grid if the parts are not kept on hand by the electrical utility. There is currently no United States manufacturing capability for the largest power transformers in its power grid. All of these very heavy transformers (345 KV or larger) have to be manufactured and imported from other countries. The current delivery time for these transformers is 3 years from the time that the order is placed, but widespread destruction of these transformers would completely overwhelm the very limited worldwide production capacity.
The problem of spare parts affects more than just the power grid. There has been an overall trend during the past decade toward all enterprises keeping fewer and fewer critical spare parts on hand.
Electrical and communications lines carried on overhead poles would be most susceptible to EMP. Although fiber optic lines will not pick up EMP-induced currents, as the Soviet Union learned in 1962, underground telephone and electrical lines would not be completely immune.
A big problem in the United States would be the electronic communications systems. The threat of an EMP attack is well known to the people who could do something about it. One major study (in 2004) by the U.S. federal government stated:
Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse (EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication.
EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power.
The common element that can produce such an impact from EMP is primarily electronics, so pervasive in all aspects of our society and military, coupled through critical infrastructures. Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow. The impact of EMP is asymmetric in relation to potential protagonists who are not as dependent on modern electronics.
The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation's means and resources to accomplish.
The government did what it usually does with such studies. It filed it away, then commissioned more studies. In 2008, however, one of those studies was issued that has turned out to be the most comprehensive and valuable analysis of the current EMP threat written so far. This highly-recommended report is available at:
Note: This is a 200-page report (7 megabytes), and could take a half-hour or more to download if you are on a slow dial-up connection.
The original source for the report is at:
This report is a PDF that requires the free Adobe Acrobat PDF reader. The report of about 200 pages is somewhat technical in some areas, but it is a very objective and comprehensive report.
As the above report points out, even if power grid transformers survive an EMP attack, the power grid is extremely vulnerable to EMP and other attacks because of electronic control and monitoring devices called SCADAs, which would be knocked out even by a relatively small weapon.
For a shorter summary, the comments of the chairman of the EMP Commission, made when the report above was delivered to the U.S. Congress, are summarized here in 7 pages.
For a large amount of additional information about EMP, including many eyewitness accounts of nuclear EMP detonations, see:
Effects of Nuclear Weapons Tests: Scientific Facts
Another good report on the nuclear EMP problem is this report on Electromagnetic Pulse Threats in 2010 released by the United States Air Force.
For more information about the retinal burn problem and other technical aspects of EMP-producing nuclear explosions, see:
A book was released in March 2009 about a fictional EMP attack on the United States. It is called One Second After by William R. Forstchen, a best-selling author who has a Ph.D. in military history from Purdue University. The book covers the period of time from the afternoon of the pulse attack until exactly one year after the attack. There are a great many other fictional EMP books that have been released in the past few years, but One Second After is the only one that has made it into the major bestseller lists.
Dr. Forstchen's book is quite technically accurate, although it oversimplifies many EMP effects, especially the EMP effect on automobiles. In his defense, though, Dr. Forstchen didn't have access to the latest EMP-automobile simulator test information when he wrote the book. (The contract for the book was actually completed in early 2006). The earlier EMP-automobile data was much more dismal, and there are still a great many uncertainties about the EMP effect on automobiles because of the very small number of vehicles that have actually been tested. The 1962 Soviet experience with the repeated burnout of military diesel generators using no solid state electronics is a warning not to rely too heavily on simulator testing. It is important to remember that the last time an automobile was actually tested against a real nuclear EMP was in 1962. Actual electromagnetic damage in the real world is far messier than any simulations would indicate.
The EMP Commission's testing of automobiles was only done up to a level of 50,000 volts per meter, and in most cases, the EMP levels were not even taken up nearly that high. The EMP Commission did not take the level up to see at what level the automobiles would fail to run because they were trying to avoid damage to the vehicles that would have been very expensive to repair. From everything that is published in open (non-classified) English-language scientific papers, 50,000 volts per meter is about the maximum electric field strength that can be produced by first and second generation nuclear weapons of any size. However, EMP Commission staff members have stated in sworn testimony before the U.S. Congress that "super-EMP" weapons have been developed (by more than one country) that are capable of generating up to 200,000 volts per meter below the detonation, and 100,000 volts per meter at the horizon. (It is impossible to confirm the accuracy of these claims.)
For a discussion of some of the problems in correlating the results of EMP simulator testing to the actual results seen in the 1962 high altitude nuclear tests, see this transcript of a House Armed Services Committee discussion between congressmen and physicists.
For more information about super-EMP weapons, see the Super-EMP page.
One Second After postulates an EMP from a missile launched from an offshore container ship. Although this would be difficult to actually do this successfully, if anyone thinks that this is an unrealistic scenario, take a look at this advertisement from a Russian company, with an included Youtube video that looks like it could be a scene out of the One Second After movie:
The Club-K Container Missile System in its latest version is designed for launching six cruise missiles, but it could obviously be converted for a long-range ballistic missile. A Scud-D ballistic missile would fit quite easily into this container. Scuds are very primitive missiles, though. Producing an intermediate range ballistic missile is not a project of any major difficulty.
By re-stating the often-mentioned idea of an EMP attack from a container-ship missile system, I do not want to imply that I think that this is in any way a likely event. There are many additional, and much more clever, possible methods of executing an EMP attack, and many other ways that the perpetrator could avoid forensic identification.
An hour-long television documentary program on EMP was Electronic Armageddon, an episode of National Geographic Explorer on the National Geographic Channel. It was shown four times in June 2010. It was an excellent program with very few factual errors. An
Electronic Armageddon DVD-R can be purchased at the National Geographic Video Store.
This futurescience.com site has very extensive additional information and scientific references about nuclear EMP:
The SUMMA Foundation at the University of New Mexico now has a 44-minute documentary movie online about the world's largest EMP simulator called TRESTLE: Landmark of the Cold War. Dr. Carl E. Baum, the senior scientist/engineer who conceived the Trestle EMP simulator, and also maintained the most valuable concentration of documents on EMP at the SUMMA Foundation, died on December 2, 2010, at the age of 70, after suffering a stroke. The SUMMA Foundation is affiliated with the University of New Mexico.
In September, 2010, Oak Ridge National Laboratory published a series of reports for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security on the effects of electromagnetic disturbances on the United States electric power grid. The reports were written by the Metatech Corporation, and they provide an updated and comprehensive view of how electromagnetic disturbances such as nuclear EMP are likely to affect the United States electrical power grid. Many people will only be interested in the Executive Summary. Some of the other reports are hundreds of pages long.
Jerry Emanuelson has several valid email addresses. One is firstname.lastname@example.org
More on the science behind the Dark Angel series:
Hoverdrones have become a commonplace topic since Dark Angel went off the air.
In early 2008, the police departments in Miami, Florida and Houston, Texas announced plans to deploy hoverdrones for outdoor surveillance. Although these hoverdrones are bulky and crude in comparison to the 2019 models in Dark Angel, these hoverdrones, made by Honeywell International, are the very earliest models.
At the Consumer Electronics Show on January 6, 2010, the Parrot AR Drone was introduced. The Parrot AR Drone is now being sold to the public for a price of about 300 U.S. dollars. In most respects, it is much more advanced and maneuverable than the police hoverdrones announced two years earlier. It uses lithium ion polymer batteries that last about 15 minutes before needing a re-charge. The re-charge time is 90 minutes. The original design was made to be controlled with an iPhone or iPod Touch. It has two video cameras onboard. One video camera is for provides telemetry for stabilizing the drone, and the other video camera is for transmitting video back to the controller. Some other companies are selling enhancements to the Parrot AR Drone, such as macdrones.com, and there are now a large number of different hoverdrones for surveillance in development. There are now many videos on YouTube made from different types of hoverdrones.
Many of the drones produced currently for police use are a little different from the Dark Angel hoverdrones, although their capabilities are better in many respects. A drone that is now specifically made for police use is manufactured by Insitu, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing.
The May 2012 issue of the magazine Government Security News estimated that there would be as many as 30,000 drones operational over the United States by the year 2020. This total estimate includes commercial drones as well as drones operated by governments. Most commercial drones are currently illegal in the United States, even for such obvious purposes as news gathering. Current directives, however, call for the Federal Aviation Administration to develop rules and test certifications for commercial drones by 2015.
Babies by Design
Transgenic animals and chimeras are already much more common than most people realize. Even for people like me, who are generally in favor of the voluntary genetic enhancement of humans, there are already some serious ethical dilemmas arising. For example, companies that do genetic analysis of human embryos produced by in-vitro fertilization have already been asked to do selection of embryos (for implantation in the mother) with characteristics that many people would view as less than desirable. These companies have been asked by dwarf parents to select for embryos who will become dwarf children, and deaf parents have asked companies to select embryos for implantation who will become deaf children.
For more information about human babies by design, see the 2007 book BABIES BY DESIGN by Ronald M. Green, published by the Yale University Press.
The bioengineering of humans with the physical abilities of an X5 in Dark Angel may not be as difficult as most people believe. A scientific report in the November 9, 2007 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry describes the production of mice with physical abilities that are comparatively not much different from that of an X5. Humans possess the same genes as the genes that were altered in these transgenic mice. The relevant gene in humans has the official name PCK1 and is located on chromosome 20 at locations 55,569,543 to 55,574,922.
More information about this and other genes may be found at Entrez Gene, maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine.
In order to overexpress this gene in mice, the researchers inserted the mouse DNA with a 2,000 base-pair region of human DNA from a promoter region called the human alpha-skeletal actin gene promoter.
These transgenic mice ate 60 percent more than ordinary mice but had half the body weight and 10 percent the body fat of normal mice of the same age. The transgenic mice also had an extended life span, and one of the female transgenic mice gave birth at an age at which most mice have died of old age.
There was concern that the 2008 summer Olympics would see the first case of genetically engineered athletes. Even though no one was disqualified from the 2008 Olympics for "genetic doping," this is a serious concern for Olympic officials. It is an even greater concern for future Olympics. There was an interesting article about this in the August 2, 2008 issue of SCIENCE NEWS. That article is called Finding the Golden Genes, but is now available online only for SCIENCE NEWS subscribers.
Just before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympics, another article on the possibility of genetically engineered athletes appeared in the weekly journal, Science. (See Friedmann, T., Rabin, O., and Frankel, M.S., "Gene Doping and Sport". Science. 5 February 2008. Vol. 327, No. 5966, pages 647-648.)
The Repoxygen virus for re-engineering DNA was developed by Oxford BioMedica, but has apparently been abandoned because of its possibilities for athletic enhancement, although it could have had profound medical uses in the treatment of anemia.
The biotech company Celladon is currently testing a treatment called MYDICAR for using a virus to genetically re-engineer muscles in the heart to reverse heart failure in humans. The gene produces an enzyme in the cells of heart muscle tissue that re-strengthens the weakened cardiac muscles.
A major problem in medicine right now is that government officials are seriously impeding the use of genetic engineering and biotechnology products for medical use because of fears about the uses of those same products by athletes. This problem has received little attention, but it is a major problem in increasing the cost, and reducing the effectiveness, of medical treatments. This was a significant part of the reason that the Repoxygen was never marketed, although it could have relieved a great amount of human suffering. Pharmaceutical companies will very often stop development of a potentially very useful medicine that would alleviate human suffering if it has the potential be to used for athletic enhancement. In 2007 and 2008, non-profit organizations that are devoted to fighting devastating medical conditions had to divert scarce resources to fight proposals by Senators Charles Schumer and Chuck Grassley that would have driven up the prices and imposed additional restrictions on important medicines that are necessary to the lives and health of large numbers of people, mostly children. Fighting similar proposals by various state legislators is also a great burden.
The Discovery Channel has produced another interesting documentary, which has been shown very little, called The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic. It is available in 10 parts on YouTube starting here. This program has rarely been broadcast, and is not yet available on DVD.
In order to promote rapid wound healing, the X5's in Dark Angel have pluripotent stem cells in their bloodstream. Although stem cells were little known among the general public in the 1990s when Dark Angel was beginning to be developed, most people know something about them now.
The major developments in stem cell research have not been covered well in the popular media. The most important advances in stem cell research have been the techniques for re-programming differentiated adult human cells into pluripotent stem cells that are similar to embryonic stem cells. This was done by changing only 4 genes in the adult human cells. Different labs used different techniques, and even two of the genes that were changed were different. A summary of the developments made in this area in 2007 were reported in the November 23, 2007 issue of Science magazine.
The induced pluripotent stem cells produced in the 2007 reports left traces of viral DNA (from the viruses that were used to modify the human DNA) in the human stem cells. A further advance is described in a report in the May 8, 2009 issue of Science magazine (pages 797-801), which describes a method for inducing human pluripotent stem cells that do not contain any non-human DNA sequences.
A major problem with the use of pluripotent stem cells is an insufficient understanding of how stem cells are different from cancer cells. It has long been known that pluripotent stem cells can mutate into a form of cancer called a teratoma. Under the wrong conditions, a cell that can become any kind of cell that the body needs can also easily become a cancer cell. This is a major problem that needs to be solved, but progress is being made in this area.
Humans Reading Barcodes
In Dark Angel, there are people who can read barcode just by a quick look. I don't know if there are really people who can read barcodes so easily. Barcodes are optimized to be read by machines, but most people who are persistent, and who devote enough time to it, could probably eventually learn to be able to read them fairly quickly. For information about how to read barcodes visually, see the How Stuff Works web site.
The exoskeleton worn by Phil, and later by Logan, in Dark Angel was based upon a device that actually existed at the time Dark Angel was written. Development on the human exoskeleton has continued, and you can read more about it in this Raytheon news release. By now, most people have heard about one of these newer exoskeletons.
Since the development of the Raytheon exoskeleton, an Israeli company has developed an exoskeleton that is specifically for helping paralyzed individuals to walk. Argo Medical Technologies of Haifa, Israel has developed an exoskeleton called the ReWalk that they hope to have on the market for paraplegics soon.
Progress continues on the development of artificial human exoskeletons in several areas.
The Japanese company Cyberdyne is selling an exoskeleton called the Hybrid Assistive Limb in Japan, and they plan to offer it for sale soon in the European Union.
Honda has done public demonstrations of its Walking Assist Device, an exoskeleton designed for people who can walk on their own, but who have some difficulty doing so.
For a video of human exoskeletons, see this video from a March, 2011 TED conference.
The Cometary Viral Plague
Nearly everything in Dark Angel, including the cometary viral plague that was supposed to be the focus of the third season, is based on serious scientific possibilities. (A coming cometary viral plague was supposed to explain the real reason why Sandeman created Manticore, and especially why he created Max.) A documentary relating to the cometary viral hypothesis is shown on the Alien Infection DVD, available at the History Channel Store. This documentary makes a strong case that the 1918 influenza pandemic may have originated from a comet since it appeared simultaneously all over the planet, including isolated arctic communities, before the time of airline travel. This documentary is available on DVD, and is repeated occasionally on the History Channel. Whether the 1918 influenza pandemic had extraterrestrial origins is speculative. What is more likely is that it was quickly spread around the world by flying birds, and that the virus literally fell from the sky using that mode of transmission.
(Incidentally, the 1918 influenza virus was one of the first organisms to be subject to the Jurassic Park scenario in reality. This virus was brought back from extinction by recovering RNA preserved in bodies of human victims buried in the arctic permafrost. At least two other microorganisms have been brought back from extinction by recovering DNA or RNA.)
The main scientific proponent of the cometary viral plague hypothesis is Dr. Chandra Wickramasinghe of Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Wickramasinghe, who has had more than 350 of his scientific papers published in major scientific journals, worked with the famous astronomer Fred Hoyle, who died in 2001. Dr. Wickramasinghe still works at the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology.
Some people have objected to the idea of viruses surviving in space with the argument that viruses would be killed by the radiation. We know of at least one much more complex organism, though, a species of bacteria called deinococcus radiodurans, that can live on the fuel rods of nuclear reactors, and can survive around 10,000 times the radiation dose that would kill a human. When the DNA of deinococcus radiodurans is blown to pieces, it spontaneously re-assembles itself within 12 to 24 hours.
Even if this cometary viral hypothesis happens to be accurate, that doesn't mean that it applies to all new viral strains. It is well known that many viral strains can mutate rapidly. The 1918 influenza strain, though, is one of those viruses that is very difficult to explain through known means of viral evolution. The simultaneous appearance across the planet before the days of airline travel is particularly curious.
Junk DNA is an old term for the portion of DNA that does not contain genes. There is an unusually large amount of this so-called junk DNA in humans. Junk DNA was once thought to be 90 to 95 percent of human DNA. Now we know that more than 97 percent of human DNA does not contain genes. At least some of this "junk DNA" does have important functions, and changes in "junk DNA" can affect human health. We don't really understand the function of these long stretches of DNA that were once thought to have no purpose. "Junk DNA" is not really junk at all, but we may be able to replace some of it with useful genes when we learn more about the exact function of this non-coding DNA.
Does that mean that a person like Max, whose DNA is fully coded with genes, would even be possible? At this point, we just don't know. Many very simple organisms have very little non-coding DNA. There would, however, be great numbers of yet unknown problems in bioengineering such a human. It would be a project of enormous complexity, certainly far greater complexity that what was known at the time that Dark Angel was being written.
There are some areas of DNA outside of genes that are necessary for survival. One example is the telomeres that form the protective "caps" at the end of our chromosomes to keep them from unraveling. Human telomeres are repeating TTAGGG sequences that are thousands of base pairs in length. The younger we are, the longer our telomeres are. The length of our telomeres is one factor in determining our maximum lifespan. Some of what was once called junk DNA is now known to be very important promoter regions that critically affect gene expression. These promoter regions of DNA are now a major area of study.
Ancient Minoan Language and Alphabet
The Minoan civilization existed on the island of Crete off the coast of Greece from about 4,700 years ago until about 3,460 years ago. It ended when a large volcano erupted on the island of Santorini, about 70 miles north of Crete. This is sometimes called the Thera eruption or the Minoan eruption. Unlike most ancient civilizations threatened by volcanic eruptions, the Minoans apparently realized that they needed to get away to survive, and it appears that most of them did leave in time. Another of the History Channel's Mega Disasters programs called Atlantis Apocalypse describes the eruption and the end of Minoan civilization. There was more than one version of the ancient Minoan language. I have not looked closely at the written symbols on the Dark Angel television series, but they may be the ancient alphabet known as Linear B.
Jerry Emanuelson's email address is jerry (at) x5dna.com
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"Technology is dominated by two types of people: those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand." - Archibald Putt.