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Nuclear detonation app lets you target your own hometown


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — With current talk of the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, did you ever wonder what would happen if someone dropped a nuclear weapon on your hometown?

There’s an app for that.

A nuclear airburst over Charleston could be expected to leave more than 70,000 people killed or wounded, according to the internet mapping program Nukemap.
(Photo courtesy of nuclear

Nukemap, which can be found at, is an interactive Google Maps program developed in 2012 by Allen Wellerstein, a historian who studies the history of nuclear weapons.

“It’s sort of a morbid thing to play with, but it’s also very interesting,” said Alex Burns, a historian who teaches a course in modern military history at West Virginia University. Burns is familiar with Nukemap, having tried the program out himself.

According to some media reports, interest in the program has increased recently due to the back-and-forth rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un over North Korea’s increasingly aggressive nuclear weapons program.

If Kim were somehow able to get a nuclear weapon over the Mountain State, what would be the likely result? Using Nukemap, it’s possible to get some idea.

Users of the program can type in any town, just about anywhere in the world, and pick the type of bomb they want to detonate, either on the ground or in an airburst. Click the box to calculate casualties to find out how many people might be killed or injured in the blast.

Wellerstein has said the estimated effects of the blasts should be taken with a grain of salt, and they don’t take into account long-term effects of fallout or radiation or variables like the weather or the height a bomb is detonated at. But the results give some idea of what might happen a nuclear blast.

According to Nukmap, a 150-kiloton nuclear airburst over Charleston, the state’s capital, could be expected to kill about 36,200 people and injure another 37,680. One hundred fifty kilotons is thought to be the largest nuclear warhead developed by the North Koreans.

Want to nuke Big Ugly? One hundred seventy dead and 2,100 wounded. War? One thousand eighty killed and 1,390 wounded.

There are places in the state so remote Nukemap says there would be no human casualties from a bomb blast. Erbacon in Webster County is among them.

Lawrence Messina, assistant secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said it’s extremely unlikely the North Koreans would be able to target West Virginia. Scientists estimate Kim Jong Un’s missiles might have just enough range to reach the West Coast, but not the rest of the country.

“We’re pretty far from the Pacific, it seems to me,” Messina said.

North Korea’s most likely targets of a nuclear exchange would likely be in South Korea, Japan and the West Coast of the United States, assuming their missiles can make it that far.

Nukemap says a 150-kiloton explosion over the South Korean capital Seoul could be expected to kill nearly 417,000 people and leave almost 1.9 million wounded. An airburst over Tokyo might leave almost 455,000 dead and 1.7 million wounded.

An airburst over Los Angeles, assuming North Korean missiles can reach that far, might kill 215,500 people and injure 620,500, according to Nukemap.

In comparison, a retaliatory strike against Pyongyang, North Korea with a single 300-kiloton Minuteman III missile could be expected to leave nearly 841,000 people dead and more than 1 million wounded.

Burns said the world hasn’t seen that level of death and destruction since the end of World War II. On the Eastern Front, the battles between German and Soviet forces killed as many people every three days as the United States lost during the entire Vietnam War, he said.

For that reason, Burns wonders if modern generations understand how devastating a nuclear war could be.

But Burns doubts West Virginia is in much danger of a nuclear strike, even if North Korean missiles could reach this far.

During the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, West Virginia’s chemical industry would have been among the Soviet’s top 20 targets, but not so much any more. If the Russians were going to launch 1,000 missiles against the United States, Burns said it might be worth their while to target a few power plants north of Morgantown or The Greenbrier, but that’s about it.

Burns doubts that Kim Jong Un has more than about 20 or 30 missiles in his entire arsenal, and doubts that he really intends to use them.

But if he does, state emergency officials are ready. Messina said the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has a nuclear response plan as an addendum to the state Emergency Operations Plan.

The 13-page addendum lists what the roles of various state and federal agencies would be a nuclear emergency.

Staff Writer Rusty Marks can be reached at 304-415-1480 or email at [email protected]


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