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Dropping Digital Nukes in the Name of Education

NUKEMAP Models Explosion, Fallout and Gives Scope to Abstract Reality


There’s a tool on the web that’s both grim and enlightening, and it came onto our radar as we did research for this story and this story. It’s called NUKEMAP and lets users digitally model the explosions of nuclear weapons — from smaller bombs to massive warheads — at any location on the planet. Centering the blast over Santa Barbara, while admittedly morbid, is an eye-opening exercise that provides relatable dimension to an otherwise abstract concept.

Created in February 2012 by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons who works at the American Institute of Physics in Maryland, NUKEMAP displays the radii of a bomb’s fireball, air blast, and radiation. It also calculates casualties and fallout. Check it out here.

In a detailed FAQ section linked at the top of the map, Wellerstein explains his motivation for creating the online offering and the possible takeaways from its results.

“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,” he states. “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,” Wellerstein continues. “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.”

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