Mapping an explosion: blast map calculators

I found some interactive blast map calculators that were mildly entertaining to my inner-geek. Unfortunately, I couldn’t achieve 100% functionality, which might be because I’m on a Mac (I’ve not tried them on a PC yet). Nonetheless, they’re link-worthy:

Fallout Calculator – from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). You can choose from a selection of major international cites (New York City is noticeably absent), wind speed, wind direction and bomb yield. On my Mac I could not adjust the bomb yield (I tried using both Safari and Firefox). The results, a series of concentric ovals, “depict calculated radiation doses of 300, 25, and 1 REM at 96 hours after detonation.” Clicking anywhere on the map will move the location of detonation to that point. FAS, an organization endorsed by 69 Noble Laureates, was founded in 1945 by scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb. A main focus of the group is to reduce nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Weapon Effects Calculator – also from the FAS. This tool is “to give an idea of the devastating blast effects of ground-level, shallow subsurface, and low-altitude nuclear weapon detonations.” Choose a city (New York again is absent) and a bomb yield. Clicking anywhere on the map will move the location of detonation to that point. The results are three concentric circles, which are not explained.

The High-Yield Detonation Effects Simulator (HYDESim) – an experiment in AJAX and Google Maps programming by Eric A. Meyer. Based on public data (from the classic book, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons), it shows “overpressure,” which is the destructive air pressure or shock wave created by the bomb measured in pounds per square inch (psi). You pick the bomb yield and four concentric circles show the overpressure created at four distances from the point of detonation. I had difficulty moving the point of detonation around the google map. You can find additional coordinates (latitude and longitude) for cities by clicking here. It’s interesting to note that a 10 kiloton bomb creates 0.25 psi at 4.01 mile and “most glass surfaces, such as windows, will shatter within this ring, some with enough force to cause injury.” Note to self: if the U.S. is ever threatened with an imminent attack, move desk away from window.

Blast Maps – from the website for the book, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe, by Graham Allison of the Belfar Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Internet Explorer and a PC are required so I’ve not messed with this one yet

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer – online retro edition – Wow, this is cool. During the Cold War you could purchase a circular slide rule from the U.S. Government Printing Office based on information from the classic book, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (same source for the HYDESim above). John Walker has recreated this calculator online in a unique way: for blast affects you input the variables of bomb yield and distance, and for radiation affects you input time and dose rate. The output is an image of the original slide rule showing the results. Click here for the instructions.

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2 Comments on “Mapping an explosion: blast map calculators”

  1. Steve Says:

    Lots of variables to consider, but if we assume two different weapons yields and two different placements (1 KT atomic demolition or crude gun type homemade weapon, surface burst and 200 KT (cruise missile warhead sold to terrorist, light aircraft provides low airburst) we can get the general picture for a terrorist nuclear attack. In either case, a single weapon will cause some fallout, but the lack of counterforce impacts would mean a robust tracking and public notification response. Unless you were within the footprint of the fireball, you’d have a good chance of survival. Now if the attack is from Russia with love, and hits the fairly well known bunkers with a 50MT bunker buster each, the whole middle seaboard will see fallout. Depending on the wind that day.

  2. Jay Says:

    It’s incredibly frustrating to get a grip on how safe one would be based on distance. I really want to know for how long with the radioactive fallout be harmful – e.g., if you own real estate 5 miles away? 30 miles away? for how long will it be unusable. This may be of interest:

    • Jenkins, 180 respondents, 10% chance in ten years someplace in the world of a Nuke.
    • 29 percent – Harvard Professor likelihood in ten years.
    • State Department – Int’l Security Experts – 29% in ten years.
    • Terrorists today are able to do this.

    • Ten kilotons – is the size of what was dropped on Hiroshima
    o Ten kilotons would obliterate several city blocks. Ten kiloton – Radioactive fallout contaminates a 500-km area, prohibiting residence for 10-20 years.
    o Half mile radius is destroyed. 2.5 miles massive burns and inferno. 9-14 miles away, 50% die from acute radiation poisoning.
    o Chicago would be 300K deaths.
    o A 10 kt explosion would result in complete structural destruction up to ¾ of a mile from ground zero. Fires and lethal radiation would be felt up to 1 mile from ground zero. Radiation fallout from debris clouds will be seen, depending on wind variables, for several miles from ground zero.
    o Natl’ Geographic Video: One mile in any direction destroyed.
    o A few kilometers die instantly, within five kilometers die within 24h (chart below for London and Mumbai).
    o Midtown Manhattan: A ten kiloton weapon detonated in Times Square would devastate much of midtown Manhattan, including the theater district, Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, the Empire State Building and Madison Square Garden.
    o Wall Street: Had the 9/11 terrorists detonated a nuclear weapon instead of crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center, Lower Manhattan and the entire financial district would have been reduced to ash and rubble, according to former Senator Nunn, head of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
    o Within a two-mile diameter circle of a nuclear detonation – a distance the length of the Washington Mall – little could be done.
    o a RAND study, which says the zone of 100% mortality is about a radius of three quarters of a mile: “For a 10-kiloton airburst, everyone will be killed by lethal doses of flash radiation to a distance of 0.7 miles.” This is from the RAND Corporation’s Center for Terrorism Risk Management Policy, page four of a report titled, “Considering the Effects of a Catastrophic Terrorist Attack.”

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