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Nukemap: Shall we play a game?

Tool shows what would happen if history's most notorious nuclear weapons were dropped on different cities. It's scary and sobering--and more than a million people have used it.

This screenshot from Nukemap shows what would happen if Fat Man, the second atomic bomb ever used in war, was dropped on London. Screenshot by Daniel Terdiman CNET

Want to play god much?

With Nukemap, a new tool that lets anyone test out--on a Google Map--the effects of some of history's most famous nuclear explosions on cities around the world, you can.

Say you're inclined to see just how bad the destruction would be in London if "Fat Man," the second A-bomb dropped on Japan by the Americans during World War II, detonated there. Nukemap lays it all out for you.

Nukemap lets you choose from a long list of cities to experiment with--or drag the map's marker wherever you want--and then choose either a custom yield in kilotons, or one of a list of famous bombs. When you click the "detonate" button, you quickly see a map with a series of colored circles that show the radii of the fireball, the air blast, the spread of radiation, and the spread of thermal radiation.

It is quite a scary and sobering experience. Indeed, when experimenting with the tool, I couldn't bring myself to see what would happen to my own city, San Francisco, or to some of my other favorite places, like Paris or New York.

But others clearly aren't as cowed by this, and already, Nukemap users have generated more than 1 million detonations.

"This grimly fascinating Web site allows you to drop everything from Fat Man to Minutemen I warheads to the Tsar Bomba on everywhere from Ulan Bator to Kalamazoo," Cyriaque Lamar wrote at io9. "I dropped the never-tested 100-megaton Tsar Bomba on the Gawker Media HQ in Manhattan. This was an incredibly stupid decision, as I ended up annihilating my own apartment as well. Didn't really think that one through."

In a blog post about the project, creator Alex Wellerstein, a science historian at the American Institute of Physics, said he built the tool because he wasn't satisfied with any of the other nuclear-effects calculators he'd found online. Wellerstein's blog is about "nuclear secrecy, past and present."

"I have in the past made maps of this sort for use in teaching, when I want to emphasize how 'impressive' the first hydrogen bomb was when compared to the first atomic bombs," Wellerstein wrote in the post.

"If you dropped a Fat Man-style bomb onto downtown Boston, the results wouldn't be pretty, but the effects would be limited to the immediate area surrounding the peninsula, primarily. (In other words, I would tell the students, Harvard is probably not too bad off, fallout excepting, but MIT is completely fried.) Do the same thing with an Ivy Mike-sized bomb and you've set houses on fire all the way out to Concord. (a visual argument, when done with appropriate build-up and theatricality, that never failed to result in a horrified gasp from the auditorium of undergrads). It becomes quite clear why many of the atomic scientists of the day considered H-bombs to be exclusively genocidal weapons."