In "is this a good sign?" news, a 10-year-old nuclear blast simulator has seen so much traffic in recent days that it is regularly crashing. This increase in traffic is most likely due to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which hosts both Chernobyl and Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
Nukemap, created in 2012 by Alex Wellerstein, historian of science and nuclear weapons, and professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, allows you to look at the radius of a range of nuclear weapon attacks, laid over a city or location of your choosing. The map allows you to select from a wide array of nuclear bomb yields, from the 20-kilotons Fat Man dropped over Nagasaki in 1945, to the "Tsa Bomba", the largest bomb designed by the Soviet Union at 100 kilotons.
As well as showing the radius of the initial fireball created by the devices, it also shows you the heavy blast radius, the radiation radius where the radiation will be "likely fatal in about 1 month" and "15% of survivors will eventually die of cancer as a result of exposure".
Breaking down the damage some more, it also shows the area where — should you be in it — you can likely expect severe burns. Wellerstein describes how in this zone "third-degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin, and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves. They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation."
Wellerstein first created the maps to help himself understand the weapons himself.
"I recognized that it’s difficult to conceptualize the size of nuclear weapons," he told The Atlantic newsletter Galaxy Brain. "I have a very hard time dealing with numbers and visualizing them and translating these equations into code that makes a visualization allows me to better understand these weapons for my job."
The map initially went viral after being covered by several tabloid newspapers in the UK. Now, following concerns over the potential escalation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has gone viral again. People have flooded the map in recent days, prompting its creator to set up a mirror site in order to let users continue to access it.
In his interview with the Atlantic, Wellerstein revealed a few interesting ways that people have been using the maps.
"The first is cathartic nuking, which is nuking somebody else. Say, Americans are mad at Russia, so they’re seeing what happens when you do it to somebody you don’t like. The second is experiential nuking, or nuking yourself to see what happens if it happens to me," he said
Apparently, Americans tend to fit into the latter category.
"Americans by far nuke themselves most of the time. They prefer experiential nuking," he told the outlet. "I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s narcissistic, but our main mode of using Nukemap is to look and see what will happen to us."