Google Earth Maps Out At-Risk Populations Around Nuclear Power Plants

google earth reactors image

Image via Google Earth Screen Grab via Nature

If a nuclear power plant in the US were to have issues, who would be affected? In a partnership between Nature News and Columbia University, we now have a Google map that tells us the population sizes around plants so we can easily scan and see the number of people that could be affected should anything occur at the plants.
The team Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Columbia University's NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center to map out in an easy-to-read way, the location and size of nuclear power plants as well as population numbers around those plants.

On the map, population sizes are illustrated with circle size as well as color. Green circles represent less than 500,000 people and on the other side of the scale, red circles represent populations of over 20 million.

google earth reactors image

It's a little scary to see the amount of impact a plant could have should it face troubles. But there's more than just the US to worry about. The map covers the entire world -- check out impacts a potential meltdown could have in India and China:

nuclear reactors worldwide image

Of course, maps like this probably won't do anything to encourage people to move away from a nuclear power plant when scenarios are only "what ifs" but information visualization like this could do something to discourage support of yet more nuclear power plants, and bolster support of renewable energy alternatives -- or at the very least, supplementing power needs with renewable energy instead of a new nuclear power plant. While nuclear is touted as being "safe" and "clean," disasters like Fukushima point out that it may be the case in the best of circumstances, but there's certainly no guarantee. And placement of the plants is a critical part of that "safe" factor -- for example, as TreeHugger Brian Merchant reported, "Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which sits just miles away from the notoriously active San Andreas fault -- and a mere half-mile from another recently discovered fault -- operated for a year and half with its emergency systems disabled."

PhysOrg aptly points out, "Of course, what's not shown in these maps are confidence measures to show how safe the plants actually are, which even if they did exist, would be based on assumptions and suppositions, likely created by the very same people that were operating them; not exactly a situation that would warm the heart."

You can use Google Earth to scroll around the globe and find more details on location of and population near the various nuclear power plants.

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More on Nuclear Power
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