If you’ve never imagined what the devastating effects of nuclear fallout would look like, click any dot on this map. Future of Life Institute (FLI),
a volunteer-run research group, has teamed up with Alex Wellerstein, a
historian of science, to create interactive maps that visualizes the
apocalyptic effects of a nuclear exchange between the US and Russia.
Both countries currently possess around 93 percent of the world’s arsenal.
The map’s data was pulled from a declassified list of US nuclear targets from 1956. Published by the National Security Archives in 2015, the list comprises a whopping 1,100 nuclear targets across China, Eastern Europe, Russia, and North Korea.
FLI wants to ensure its predictions are as realistic as possible, so
Wellerstein was also asked to simulate the effects of nuclear fallout
when the size of the bomb as well as weather conditions are factored
into the equation.
Given the volatility of the weather, FLI states
that a bomb dropped near one country’s border on the wrong day could
cause neighbouring country’s people—who weren’t the target—to suffer the
effects of nuclear fallout.
How would the direction of radioactive fallout change if bombs were
dropped on three different days? Image: Future of Life Institute/NukeMap
second map depicts what would happen if all 1,100 targets were hit by
nuclear bombs varying from 50 kt to 10,000 kt in size on 29 April 2016.
The map shows the local weather patterns on that day pushing the fallout
further away from the target.
Next up, FLI considers the effects
of fallout, if the bombs were dropped on three consecutive days: 29
April, 30 April, and 1 May 2016. This map shows how weather conditions
would make a 100 kt bomb send nuclear fallout to countries like Denmark,
Germany, and Finland.
As the world’s nuclear arms race
shows no signs of slowing down, by visualising these scenarios, FLI
wants to both remind us all of the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons,
and to make governments around the world—especially the nine nuclear nations—think critically about their need to continue stockpiling nukes.
What would happen if all 1,100 nuclear targets were struck by a nuclear
weapon of a given size on 29 April, 2016? Image: Future of Life
Unfortunately, FLI states in a post
that while today’s nuclear targets list is classified, it probably
looks much the same as it did back in 1956. The US has around “1,900 nuclear warheads deployed
on missiles and bombers (with thousands more on reserve), ready to be
launched at a moment’s notice and able to hit their targets within 30
minutes,” according to FLI’s statement.
Worse, technological progress has made today’s nuclear bombs deadlier than either of the two bombs that decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
So in the event of an accidental or purposeful nuclear war, FLI points out that a “nuclear winter”—when
winds spread vast amounts of soot across the stratosphere, blocking the
sun, and making temperatures drop—will likely annihilate most
We're still three minutes from midnight, but with interactive tools like these maps we can maybe, hopefully nudge back the clock.