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This is What Nuclear Fallout Could Look Like

The Future of Life Institute teamed up with Nukemap to visualise its chilling effects.
Image: Future of Life Institute/NukeMap

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.

But 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

This 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 Institute/NukeMap

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 Earthlings.

We're still three minutes from midnight, but with interactive tools like these maps we can maybe, hopefully nudge back the clock.