Saturday, 18 February 2012

Nukemap: see what would happen if your town or city had a nuclear bomb dropped on it

After trivial rumors have surfaced about the belligerents of "the forever war"--was Osama bin Laden, as reported, really obsessed by the B-52s track "Rock Lobster", and did he have a fetish for Whitney Houston to the point where he dreamt of kidnapping her and killing Bobby Brown?--it's reassuring to know that we have the means at our disposal to learn about more far-reaching consequences: Alex Wellerstein has devised a very clever way for us to envision what happens when nuclear weapons are deployed. You can use his Nukemap to select the size of the bomb and where it would be detonated, then see the blast radius on a Google map. I just dropped a 16kt bomb on my parents' home town i.e. the same size as the "Little Boy" used on Hiroshima. In addition to the map, I was offered the following information:

Note that you can drag the target marker after you have detonated the nuke.
Effects radii for 16 kt blast (smallest to largest):
Fireball radius: 0.09 km / 0.06 mi
Maximum size of the nuclear fireball; relevance to lived effects depends on height of detonation.
Air blast radius: 0.7 km / 0.43 mi
20 psi overpressure; heavily built concrete buildings are severely damaged or demolished; fatalities approach 100%.
Radiation radius: 1.42 km / 0.88 mi
500 rem radiation dose; between 50% and 90% mortality from acute effects alone; dying takes between several hours and several weeks.
Air blast radius: 1.85 km / 1.15 mi
4.6 psi overpressure; most buildings collapse; injuries universal, fatalities widespread.
Thermal radiation radius: 2.14 km / 1.33 mi
Third-degree burns to all exposed skin; starts fires in flammable materials, contributes to firestorm if large enough.
"A convenient rule of thumb for estimating the short-term fatalities from all causes due to a nuclear attack is to count everyone inside the 5 psi blast overpressure contour around the hypocenter as a fatality. In reality, substantial numbers of people inside the contour will survive and substantial numbers outside the contour will die, but the assumption is that these two groups will be roughly equal in size and balance out. This completely ignores any possible fallout effects." (Carey Sublette)

What I'll do next is drop a 100Mt on the same location for a comparison. It would be a frightening, but worthwhile exercise, to then program the coordinates of the differing effects radii into a portable device, so when moving between them you would have a reminder of which zone you had left/were moving into. Now that's what I call "bringing it all home". Before trying it yourself though, I recommend watching this video about the 100Mt "Tsar Bomba" as another way to visualise the kind of destructive capacity that could end all life as we know it on planet Earth. There are things you can do about them.

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