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Nuclear explosion mapper NukeMap now does radioactive fallout shelters



nuclear bomb explosion blast city shutterstock_404953870
illustration of a nuclear bomb exploding in a


  • Nukemap is a tool that lets you detonate nuclear weapons over an
    interactive map of the world.
  • The app was created by a historian to help people
    understand the effects of nuclear explosions
  • A new version shows how various types of radioactive
    fallout shelters might protect you from exposure.
  • Nukemap can export its terrifying data to 3D mapping
    software like Google Earth.

Since February 2012, people around the world have exploded more
than 159 million
nuclear weapons
. They’ve set off big ones and small ones, and
dropped them on Washington, Paris, Moscow, and even their own

But none of these nuclear explosions are real, of course. They’re
all simulated via Nukemap, an in-browser app
that lets you choose a location anywhere on Earth, adjust a
number of options, and detonate a hypothetical nuclear bomb.

The program is the brainchild of Alex Wellerstein, an historian
nuclear weapons
at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Using
the app has a certain thrill to it — just zoom to your location
and click “detonate” to see what happens.

But that feeling is quickly replaced by existential dread when
you see the estimated numbers of fatalities and injuries tick
upward, and observe the lingering
effects that a single blast might inflict
over perhaps
thousands of square miles.

You begin to wonder if you
might survive such an onslaught

“We live in a world where nuclear weapons issues are on the front
pages of our newspapers on a regular basis, yet most people still
have a very bad sense of what an exploding nuclear weapon can
actually do,” Wellerstein wrote on his personal

Hence, Wellerstein created Nukemap six years ago to lure those
who are curious and educate them on a raft of consequences of

nuclear detonations

“A realistic understanding of what nuclear weapons can and can’t
do is necessary for any discussion that involves them,”
previously told
Business Insider. “People tend to have either
wildly exaggerated views of the weapons, or wildly
under-appreciate their power, if they have thoughts about them at
all. It can lead to hysterical policies of all sorts.”

Wellerstein has been updating his public-education project ever
since, and it’s now at version 2.6. In the new version, users can
more deeply explore the consequences of radioactive fallout,
including if and how a person might survive the frightening

Nukemap’s new fallout shelter option

hwasong nuclear ballistic missile icbm test launch north korea kcna
test-launch of a North Korean ballistic

KCNA (North

Nukemap’s software relies on declassified equations along with
models of nuclear weapons and their effects — factors like
fireball size, air-blast radius, radiation zones, and more. It
crunches the numbers, then renders the results as graphics over
an interactive map.

Preset options let you pick historic and recent blasts, including

North Korea’s test explosions
and Tsar Bomba, the
most powerful nuclear device
ever detonated. The tool can
even estimate fatalities and injuries for a given weapon yield,
altitude, and location.

Wellerstein’s latest update debuted last week, and it offers a
fascinating new option: a way to see how well someone in a
radioactive fallout shelter might fare.

The previous version of Nukemap could generate a
cloud of radioactive fallout
and show users how it might
drift based on real weather conditions. Now a “probe” tool lets
you explore that cloud and better estimate your chances of
survival within it.

The feature allows users to pick a given spot and see how much
radioactive exposure they might get over a certain amount of
time, and what that exposure may do. You can also explore how

different types of shelter
affect that exposure. The options
include no shelter at all, the basement of a one-story house, the
center of an office building, and so on.

As an example, suppose a 150-kiloton bomb detonates
in New York City (near the ground).

This yield, in kilotons of TNT, would be about 10 times that of
the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. So Nukemap predicts that dangerous
fallout from such a cataclysm could spread deep into Connecticut
and douse Stamford.

Screen Shot 2018 10 30 at 12.05.58 PM
detonation of a 150-kiloton nuclear weapon on the ground in NYC
would have far-reaching consequences in terms of radioactive

2.6/Alex Wellerstein; Mapbox

This type of bomb would be similar in yield to the hydrogen bombs
North Korea
might be able
to deliver as far as the Eastern US
. (Wellerstein also
developed a Missilemap browser app to
explore the range of nuclear-warhead-tipped
intercontinental ballistic missiles

In this example blast, a person out in the open at Scalzi Park in
Stamford, Connecticut, might get 116 rads of radiation exposure
over five hours. Nukemap describes this as “sickness inducing,”
since it’d be enough to weaken the body’s immune system (among
other effects).

Meanwhile, if that Connecticut resident were to huddle in the
basement of a nearby three-story brick building for 72 hours,
they’d see only 8 rads — roughly equivalent to
the dosage astronauts get
after living aboard the
International Space Station for 6 months.

‘Reinventing civil defense’

Nukemap’s fallout-cloud feature shows that fallout is mostly
limited to explosions that happen near the ground — as opposed to
airbursts thousands of feet or even miles above the surface.
That’s because fallout consists almost entirely of dirt and
debris that get sucked up by a nuclear blast, irradiated to
dangerous levels, pushed into the atmosphere, and sprinkled over
great distances. (So a blast high in the air can’t vacuum up the
same amount of soil and debris.)

In any case, nuclear safety experts say 48 hours is the minimum
amount of time you should
shelter in place
, since radioactivity from fallout would
subside from dangerous levels after this time.

fallout radiation shelter sign brick city building dave mosher
A weathered metal sign for
a fallout shelter bolted to a New York City apartment

Dave Mosher

This is the type of information Wellerstein hopes his tool
teaches people through experimentation and iteration.

“I hope that people will come to understand what a nuclear weapon
would do to places they are familiar with, and how the different
sizes of nuclear weapons change the results,” he wrote on his

The update to Nukemap comes as Wellerstein and others at the
Stevens Institute of Technology work on an initiative called
Reinventing Civil Defense.

The project, backed by a $500,000 non-profit grant, is expected
to debut in 2019 and feature virtual-reality explorations of what
it’s like to be in the midst of a nuclear blast. The effort’s
name references the Cold War-era program in the US to distribute
safety announcements like “duck and cover.”

“Our goal is to develop new communication strategies regarding
nuclear risk that have high potential to resonate with a public
audience,” the project’s website says. “Building on the prior
history of Civil Defense, we will identify what an effective,
non-partisan, level-headed approach to nuclear risk communication
looks like in the 21st century.”

silhouettes tunnel taking shelter disaster nuclear survival shutterstock_119204617 processed
Business Insider

In the meantime, Nukemap’s latest iteration makes clear that
every weapon’s yield, or explosive power, is limited — and so are
its effects.

So if you’re not at ground zero, are aware that an attack might
be coming, and
know what

to do
— and what to avoid, like getting
into a car
— you stand a chance at surviving (barring

all-out nuclear war

That doesn’t mean we should get used to the idea of nuclear
weapons or consider their use inevitable or normal. Quite the
contrary: Such a trend would
bring the world closer
to catastrophic nuclear conflict,
by accident

“A more grounded, sober, calibrated view of these weapons, in my
experience, leads people to take more sober approaches to them,”
Wellerstein previously told Business Insider. “[A] nuclear
detonation wouldn’t be the end of everything, but we should
strive to avoid it at practically all costs.”

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