Declan Butler, reporter This is the personal blog of Declan Butler, a senior reporter at Nature. All views expressed here are mine, and not those of Nature. Contact me at

April 2, 2011

The world’s nuclear reactors as you’ve never seen them…

Filed under: Nuclear accidents — admin @ 8:50 pm

I haven’t been blogging here for a while, but I thought I’d crosspost this one, which I published earlier over on Nature’s blog.

The nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daichii power plant will have consequences for the future of nuclear power in Japan and elsewhere. To get a better idea of the world’s current tally of nuclear reactors, I’ve created a map of the world’s nuclear power plants and reactors using Google Earth – the maps are based on a database kindly supplied to me by staff at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS) database, so it’s reliable, and up-to-date. The database, however, lacked latitude and longitude data — I obtained many of these by doing a database merge with the older UNEP-GRID reactor database which contain data on reactors up to the year 2000, and then geocoded the remaining entries lacking coordinate data.

Google Earth, with its unparalleled pan and zoom functionality and the relative ease with which it can be interfaced with databases, is my preferred tool for mapping and visualizing geographical data. Here’s the link to my beta map – remember that to view the file you must first download Google Earth (I’ve also done these maps in my spare time, so please be forgiving of any rough edges)

Here’s a quick summary of what the map shows:

1. All the world’s nuclear power plants are depicted on the map as circles. Their names appear in yellow on browseover, with the size of the circle proportional to their total MW electricity output. I calculated the MW output by summing that of the plant’s operational reactors, plus that of those already under construction.

2. Where it gets more interesting is that if you zoom in and then click on a power plant, its circular symbol will open up to show each individual reactor at the plant, with the colour of the circle of each reactor depicting its design (for example, “boiling water reactor”). Then clicking on any reactor will bring up an information panel, giving the reactor’s basic technical details, and where available a photograph of the plant, as well as links to recent news stories about the plant.

A major advantage of Google Earth is that it is also easy to overlay other layers of data on top of this base map of nuclear power plants and reactors, so (time permitting) I could envisage, for example, adding such relevant geographical layers as datasets on population density, past significant earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as seismic risk. Let me know what sort of data you would like to see added as supplementary layers. But for now, I thought I’d just get the base map out the door.

For full coverage of the Fukushima disaster, go to Nature’s news special.

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