Hiroshima: A visualization helping to understand the destructive power of one nuclear bombs


August 6, 1945 was the day that an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. It is a sad fact that even the biggest atrocities and catastrophes lose a part of their threat as time passes on. People forget. People who were present and survived die of age. So, gradually the event vanishes into history. 

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are different. Still today, the use of these two atomic bombs, the destruction, the high toll of deaths and the aftermath are present in our collective mind; but how can we best report them?

One very clear approach is demonstrated by the “Nuke Map” mash-up. It is an interactive page where users can see how the explosion of the Hiroshima bomb (or other, even more powerful nuclear weapons) would have affected an area they know.

The visualization/app can be found here.

The Washington Post published a full article, providing comparison for the question "What if the Hiroshima bomb would have hit your city?" As did the Sydney Morning Herald

Two principles at work

This is an excellent example of two principles at work that help to make data-driven works have an impact: Comparison and proximity.

Comparison is very important to understand whether a change is big or small - comparing a trend to last year, comparing development in one country versus another and so on. The “Nuke Map” let’s us compare on geographical level, showing how an area we know would be affected by a bomb.

The “Nuke Map” applies a second principle that is just as important: proximity. In our minds we quickly sort through news, partially based on how far away a threat is from us. Proximity means that an event is “close to us”, and therefore it is more likely to make an impact.

Alex Wellerstein is the author/host of “Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog” and the creator of the “Nuke Map” app in 2012. According to the site, over 50 million “detonations” have been visualized, helping people to understand how one atomic bomb would have destroyed their home towns, not some “far away” city.

Wellerstein is a historian of science, specialized on the history of nuclear weapons and nuclear secrecy. He is an assistant professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.