Declan Butler, reporter

April 21, 2011

A GIS analysis of the number of people living near each of the world’s nuclear power plants

Filed under: Energy,GIS,Google Earth,Nuclear,Nuclear accidents,Uncategorized — admin @ 10:19 pm

I’ve published in Nature tonight a GIS analysis I did with the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center operated by Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), looking at how many people live within certain distances of each of the world’s nuclear power plants.

It shows, for example, that two-thirds of the world’s power plants have more people living within a 30-kilometre radius than the 172,000 people living within 30 kilometres of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Some 21 plants have populations larger than 1 million within that radius, and six have populations larger than 3 million. One hundred and fifty-two nuclear power plants have more than 1 million people living within 75 kilometres.

I’ve published the full results in the form of a map which is best viewed using the desktop version of Google Earth — you can download my map file here. The map plots every one of the world’s nuclear plants with circle size indicating the number of people living within 75 km of each plant. Moving the mouse over any circle brings up a label, and the figure for the size of the population. Clicking on any of the plant symbols opens up an information panel showing data for population estimates at 30, 75, 150 and 300 km from the plant, as well as the total power output, and a photograph of the plant.

I did this map fairly quickly, and will add a scale etc soon. Feedback welcome. I can also be contacted at d.butler@nature.com.

I’ll try to publish soon the full raw dataset that we created.

Here’s a screenshot of just one of the plants on the map: Indian Point, near New York.

indianpoint.jpg

How population sizes were estimated

To estimate the size of populations living near nuclear power plants, Nature first created a map, based on the Power Reactor Information System database, an up-to-date database of nuclear reactors that are operational or under construction, supplied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA does not provide latitudes and longitudes for the reactors, so we obtained many of these by doing a database merge with the older UNEP-GRID reactor database, which contains data, including geographical coordinates, on reactors up to the year 2000. We manually geocoded remaining entries that lacked coordinate data.

To derive the population estimates, Nature teamed up with CIESIN, whose Global Rural-Urban Mapping Project (GRUMP) population database is one of the best available data sets of global population density. The team, and in particular CIESIN scientists Kytt MacManus and Liana Razafindrazay, overlaid the reactor map with GRUMP population maps for the years 2000 and 2010 in a geographic information system and computed population estimates for both years using concentric zones drawn at 30, 75, 150, 300, 600 and 1,200 kilometres from each nuclear power plant.

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