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Interactive map shows nuclear disaster hotspots

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A Google map reveals the location of nuclear power plants worldwide along with the population density surrounding it.

As the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan has shown, a power plant meltdown poses life threatening hazards to the surrounding population.

So to help people determine whether they live in a potential nuclear "hotspot," Nature News and Columbia University have collaborated to create a Google Map that reveals the location of nuclear power plants worldwide along with the population density surrounding it. The map was generated using facilities data from the Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database and population data from Columbia University’s NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center.

All that information was translated visually into easy-to-comprehend symbols that dot various spots on a three dimensional globe. Here's a brief rundown of what each of the symbols mean.

  • Each circle on the map symbolizes the population size and density within a 75 kilometer radius of a nuclear facility, with higher population areas represented as increasingly larger circles and more intensified colors.
  • The smallest green circles represent facilities that have a lower at-risk and smaller-density surrounding population of 500,000 or less residents.
  • The medium sized orange circles represent higher risk locations with a surrounding population of five to 10 million resident.
  • Big red circles represent the most potentially disastrous spots with a dense and large population that can exceed 20 million residents.

What isn't taken into account in the assessment are the facilities' safety features, it's vulnerability to natural disasters and numerous other factors that can give readers a more comprehensive understanding of the risks that come with living near any one of these power plants. In an accompanying article, the authors acknowledged as much and reminded readers that the map was designed to give people a sense of just how disastrous the aftermath would be if a nuclear accident were to happen at a certain location.

To explore the interactive map visit the Nature News web site.

Image: Screenshot of map

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure