Nuclear Bomb Simulator Used 9 Million Times Since Russia Invaded Ukraine

A nuclear bomb simulator website has experienced a huge increase in visits since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, the creator told Newsweek.

The simulator—called NUKEMAP—was created by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of nuclear weapons, who is an associate professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey.

On February 24, Russian forces began advancing into Ukrainian territory across several fronts, marking a major escalation in a conflict that started in 2014. Following the invasion, NATO activated its defense plans, while Sweden and Finland applied for membership to the organization, much to Russia's displeasure.

The conflict has led to a spike in discussions about the potential breakout of nuclear war—and people have been looking to find out what that might mean if a bomb were detonated.

The NUKEMAP models the impact of a hypothetical nuclear bomb explosion in any location that the user chooses.

Users first select the location on a map and choose certain parameters—such as the power of the hypothetical weapon and whether or not it will detonate on (or near) the ground or up in the air.

Atomic bomb detonation
Image showing the detonation of an atomic bomb nicknamed "Smokey" in the Nevada desert in 1957. A nuclear bomb simulator website has experienced a “huge” increase in visits since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, according to the creator. Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Then they can click the "Detonate" button, which calculates the estimated impact of the blast, including the potential number of deaths and injuries, the dimensions of the explosion and resulting mushroom cloud, and a rough model of the resulting nuclear fallout.

"I created NUKEMAP because it's very hard for anyone—even me—to intuitively understand the sizes of nuclear explosions, much less the differences between different types of nuclear weapons," Wellerstein told Newsweek.

"NUKEMAP is made to make understanding nuclear explosions easy for anyone, since pretty much everyone knows how to use online mapping software these days."

According to Wellerstein, the NUKEMAP site has experienced a dramatic increase in traffic since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February this year.

While some Russian media outlets and officials have hinted that the county could use nuclear weapons to target NATO member nations, others have described such comments as "empty" threats.

"Starting in February, NUKEMAP has had a huge uptick in traffic, to the point of my needing to radically upgrade and improve the server to handle it all," Wellerstein said. "Since February almost nine million people have visited NUKEMAP, with some days having over 300,000 users per day."

According to Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda at the Federation of American Scientists, the largest warhead fielded on a missile in Russia currently is estimated to have a blast equivalent in explosive power to 800 kilotons of TNT.

In comparison, Little Boy—the nuclear bomb that the United States dropped on Hiroshima during WWII—had a blast equivalent in power to around 15 kilotons of TNT.

The biggest bomb that has ever been successfully tested is the Tsar Bomb, developed by the Soviet Union, which was detonated in 1961 and had a yield of an estimated 50 megatons.

"I would not be surprised if they [Russia] had gravity bombs in the megaton range, however, as the United States does as well. These are just estimates, however," Wellerstein said.

"There have been, over the years, rumors from the Russians that they were developing multi-megaton-range weapons for their new weapons systems, but whether those are true or not is not something I can verify."