By J.W. Schnarr
Ever watched old film footage of a nuclear detonation and wondered what it might be like to see it up close?
Yeah, me either.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend we are all wondering what might happen to our town in the event of a nuclear attack. In that case, I think I have an answer, and it comes from another dark place on the Internet, with a cool interactive map interface called NUKEMAP.
I discovered NUKEMAP by accident while looking at Calgary horror writer Craig DeLouie’s website, and then I spent more time than I should have blowing things up and checking the body counts.
NUKEMAP uses Google Maps API (Application Programming Interface) and unclassified data about nuclear weapons. It was originally designed to be a teaching tool to show the difference between fission and fusion bombs, it has since become another viral plaything on the Internet (at last count, there were more than 55 million detonations).
The site allows you to drop any number of nukes anywhere you like in the world.
It then maps fatalities and injuries, and specifics of the detonation itself, including fireball radius, air blast radius (at different levels of pressure), radiation zones, and thermal radiation zones.
It also provides mapping for the fallout contour following a nuclear blast, including rates of fallout for 1,000 rems per hour – which you would see in the area directly around the blast site – and by factors of 10 down to 1 rem per hour, which would be the very outskirts of the fallout path.
It sounds grim. And believe me, it is. But it is also fascinating. And, of course, I just had to see what would happen if I nuked Taber. Sorry folks, but if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me.
The bomb I selected was a 15-kiloton recreation of “Little Boy,” the bomb dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima at the end the Second World War.
In this simulation, Little Boy is a surface burst at the intersection of 50th street and 50th Avenue, just down the street from the Administration Building. While I could have easily moved the detonation point of ground zero to anywhere I wanted, I decided just to leave it where NUKEMAP placed it – just in case anyone wanted to accuse me of targeting specific people with the blast.
Eyewitnesses who survived the Hiroshima (Taber) bombing describe an air raid siren interrupting an otherwise calm, sunny day as the start of the horror.
A moment after detonation, the air itself seems to fill with the blinding white light of a magnesium flare, followed by a “moderately” loud explosion.
A wave of heat washes over the city (Taber), and along with it the eruption of windows, walls, and debris.
The people who live through it can not understand at first what has happened; they simply find themselves buried in the rubble of their homes and surroundings, bleeding and shaken from dozens of wounds, and, in many cases, surprised to find the clothes burned or torn from their bodies. The blast becomes a 60,000-foot tall mushroom cloud.
Google demographics state that in any given 24-hour period, there are up to 9,008 people in range of the Taber detonation. According to NUKEMAP, Little Boy has an immediate fireball radius of 230 metres, stretching south to 48th Avenue and north to 52nd Avenue, and from Parkside Manor to just about halfway through Cenotaph Park.
An air blast (20 psi) radius of 0.54 kilometres just about doubles the size of that blast, smashing heavily built concrete buildings and killing almost everyone in the area. On the map, the air blast stretches from the Co-op parking lot (South Side) to past 54th Avenue (North Side), and from the Taber Skate Park to the Taber Public Library.
The next air blast radius (5 psi) of 1.13 kilometres collapses nearly all the residential buildings and creates widespread casualties. The diameter of that area is south of 40th avenue (South Side) to 60th Avenue (North Side), and from the Taber Hospital to Minute Muffler.
The biggest fear of a nuclear detonation is always the radiation that comes with the blast. Little Boy releases an immediate radiation dose (500 rem) in a radius of 1.34 kilometres, which causes an expected 50 – 90 per cent mortality rate without medical treatment. Death occurs between several hours and several weeks later, depending on exposure. The diameter of this level or radiation is from the south end of the water treatment plant reservoir (South Side) to 62nd Avenue (North Side), and from 42nd Avenue just about out to the Boston Pizza.
Finally, NUKEMAP provides information on a thermal radiation radius (third-degree burns), which extend into the skin and are often painless due to the destruction of pain nerves, causing “severe” scarring and disablement, to the point of amputation required. The radius of this part of the blast is 1.68 kilometres. The diameter of this burn area is past the edge of Taber (South Side) to 64th Avenue (North Side), and from west of Highway 864 to East of Highway 36.
In all, 3,040 people in Taber are killed, and another 2,930 are injured. The majority of the town is completely leveled, with many fires and further destruction taking place in the hours that immediately following detonation. Additionally, a fallout area consisting of a 10.8-kilometre wide radioactive strip stretches out 112 kilometres from the blast site, affecting 1,240 square kilometres. In Hiroshima, the wind whipped up by the firestorm that followed the blast also created what were described as “fire tornados” with enough wind force to uproot trees and drag people from their feet.
You can find NUKEMAP at http://www.nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap. There are a lot of different variables you can check out, and it is interesting (and horrible) to see what a number of different nuclear weapons might do if they were dropped in places you are familiar with – I suggest dropping a 100 megaton Tsar Bomba (the largest weapon ever designed by the USSR) somewhere at least once, just to see what happens.