The existence of the electromagnetic
pulse has been known since the 1940's when nuclear weapons were being developed
and tested. However, because of lack of data, the effects of an EMP were not
fully known until 1962. At this time, the United States was conducting a series
of high-altitude atmospheric tests, code named "Fishbowl." The nuclear
explosion, "Starfish Prime," which was detonated in the Pacific Ocean 800 miles
from Hawaii, caused an EMP that disrupted radio stations and electrical
equipment throughout Hawaii. Consequently, in 1963, the United States and the
Soviet Union signed the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty to counter the considerable
threat posed by EMPs. Unfortunately, the destructive potential of an EMP
increases everyday as society becomes evermore technological because of an
escalating dependence on electronics.
A. H. Compton (1892 – 1962) Professor of Physics, and
Head of the Department of Physics at the Washington University and
University of Chicago, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the
Washington University. The Nobel Prize in Physics 1927
In 1941 Compton was appointed Chairman of the
National Academy of Sciences Committee to Evaluate Use of Atomic Energy
This led, in 1922, to his discovery of the effect, nowadays known as the Compton effect, which clearly illustrates the particle concept of electromagnetic radiation.
In July 1962, a 1.44 megaton (6.0 PJ) United
States nuclear test in space, 400 kilometres (250 mi)
above the mid-Pacific Ocean, called the "Starfish Prime" test,
demonstrated to nuclear scientists that the magnitude and effects of
electromagnetic pulse (EMP), produced by high altitude nuclear explosion were
much larger than had been previously calculated. "Starfish Prime"
also made those effects known to the public by causing electrical damage in Hawaii,
about 1,445 kilometres (898 mi) away from the detonation point,
knocking out about 300 streetlights, setting off numerous burglar alarms and
damaging telephone company microwave link.
In 1962, the Soviet Union also
performed a series of three EMP-producing nuclear tests in space over Kazakhstan,
which were the last in the series called "The K Project".
Although these weapons were much smaller (300 kilotons or 1.3 PJ) than the
"Starfish Prime" test, since those tests were done over a populated large
land mass (and also at a location where the Earth's magnetic field was
greater), the damage caused by the resulting EMP was reportedly much greater
than in the "Starfish Prime" nuclear test. The geomagnetic storm
(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 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, 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.