Ever wondered about the destructive forces of radioactive fallout if a nuke was detonated in a location near you? Visitors to the NukeMap can drag markers to targets or type in the name of any city to estimate fatalities and injuries in any location viewable in Google Maps.

Users can select from a large variety of weapons, including some currently in US arsenal. We picked the Tsar Bomba, the largest USSR bomb designed, and tested it on Edinburgh (as seen in our feature photo.) The result? 835,450 fatalities and 1,228,070 injuries within a 24-hour window.

You can try the map yourself here: NUKEMAP

ABOUT NUKEMAP: The original NUKEMAP was created in February 2012 by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons who works at the American Institute of Physics in College Park, Maryland. Wellerstein holds a B.A. in History from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in History of Science from Harvard University. You can read more about his research on his blog, Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog.

The original NUKEMAP and NUKEMAP2 are both Google Maps “mashups.” This means that they use publicly-available code to modify the way that Google Maps data is displayed (this is the “Google Maps API”) along with a custom-built Javascript model to show various nuclear weapons effects. In simpler terms, this means that the NUKEMAP is code that can work with Google Maps technology to show you what happens when a bomb goes off. NUKEMAP2 is essentially the same thing as the original NUKEMAP except the nuclear effects information is based on much more sophisticated coding and models.

NUKEMAP3D uses the same models, but uses the Google Earth API to display these in a 3D environment. This allows the visualization of 3D mushroom clouds, for example, by importing cloud models and manipulating them within the browser environment.

All of the coding, design, and adaptation of the old Cold War models to modern Javascript was done by Alex Wellerstein. The population density dataset was graciously purchased for this use by the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, and AIP in general needs to be credited for supporting the NUKEMAP activity.

Why was the NUKEMAP created?
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. Some people think they destroy everything in the world all that once, some people think they are not very different from conventional bombs. The reality is somewhere in between: nuclear weapons can cause immense destruction and huge losses of life, but the effects are still comprehendible on a human scale.

The NUKEMAP is aimed at helping people visualize nuclear weapons on terms they can make sense of — helping them to get a sense of the scale of the bombs. By allowing people to use arbitrarily picked geographical locations, 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.

There are many different political interpretations one can legitimately take away from such results. There is not intended to be a simple political “message” of the NUKEMAP.

Could a terrorist, rogue state, or other nuclear power use this for nefarious purposes? Nuclear states have people whose jobs it is to do the kinds of calculations that the NUKEMAP does, but they probably use better models that are more specific to their particular targets and weaponry. The NUKEMAP would not tell such people anything that they didn’t know.

All of the effects models used by the NUKEMAP are unclassified. There is no secret information here.

  • NUKEMAP3D permalinks don’t carry over fallout or casualty information consistently, especially for multiple detonations.
  • NUKEMAP3D doesn’t work on iPads or mobile devices.
  • Sometimes after shuffling detonation orders in NUKEMAP, fallout contours get moved around.
  • Fallout contours sometimes show up at the wrong altitude after permalinks.
  • The “humanitarian impact” model sometimes gives crazy results because Google has weirdly-tagged data.