Ten years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster – which fundamentally changed Germany’s energy policy – Germany will soon be out of nuclear power. But globally, more nuclear electricity is flowing again. Data on nuclear power production from the IAEA is – for the first time, as far as we know – rendered on an interactive map. The visualizations (including animations and additional graphs) make it possible to trace international developments over time. The main map features a time-lapse animation and a slider to look at specific years, and tooltips provide detailed information on the state and capacity of different sites.
On the 10th anniversary of this global event that made then-Chancellor Angela Merkel rethink and withdraw from nuclear power, this project was a key part of Funke Mediengruppe’s reporting. The interactive was linked to all 18 newspaper’s online front pages and an adjusted version appeared in print.
Our project is the first to create an interactive, scrollable map with up-to-date as well as historical information about nuclear power plant locations worldwide, and to visualize changes over time.
Data from each of IAEA’s openly accessible nuclear power reactors’ information pages was scraped using Python and beautifulsoup. The scraped data was cleaned (including the reactors’ names), geocoded and translated into csv’s that could be used for the frontend with R and tidyverse.
We also did further analysis with the data like aggregating by states to visualize which countries were increasing and decreasing their nuclear power production, comparing total and per capita counts, etc. In the end, we chose to visualize the top 10 countries by production capacity as a bump chart in addition to the main interactive / animated map and smaller satellites of the main visualization to show developments in Japan and China over time as specific case studies.
The frontend is based on a state-of-the-art frontend technology stack using React with next.js, Mapbox for maps, emotion for CSS-in-js, and d3 for data visualization. As most of our users visited the page on their smartphones, we paid extra attention to a good user experience on small devices with low bandwidth.
What was the hardest part of this project?
One of the hardest parts of the project was to obtain the data, as IAEA doesn’t make the database powering the plant’s individual information pages publicly accessible. When scraping, we needed to account for different cases of missing data fields in older entries and entries of planned projects, needed to make sure we found each existing url that links to any nuclear power plant and had to manually check geocoding, recognizable/translated names and whether a reactor was a research facility (which we didn’t include in our visualizations) or a commercial power production site.
From a visual end, it was a challenge to incorporate different, equally important angles of the data-driven story into the key interactive: how nuclear power production is distributed globally today, different regional trends (following Fukushima) over the last years, but also the overall global development. In the end, we depicted each individual power plant on a map, and semi-transparent bubbles around each location show the amount of nuclear energy produced. This allows for some first insights when scrolling out on the world map – the amount and shade of the green color in a given area indicates the intensity of nuclear power use, while a small area graph above the slider summarizes the overall global trend. More specific analysis of different countries’ shares in global nuclear power production was moved to another graph (bump-chart) to avoid overloading the main interactive, and while both an auto-play animation as well as custom time-scrolling is possible on the world map (with any area of interest zoomed in), we highlight especially interesting areas in singled-out derivatives of the main graphic (smaller svg animations embedded in the text to explain developments in China and Japan).
What can others learn from this project?
While geographic visualizations like bubble maps are not a new thing for Funke Interaktiv since a while already, this project shows that standard visualizations can still be powerful when used effectively, which we achieved following these principles:
1. Exciting aesthetics
The specifically designed dark theme fits the topic and increases attention by standing out from the company’s standard graphics. Animations that start automatically quickly illustrate key points and capture attention.
2. Use examples to illustrate developments
The accompanying text provides historical context as well as guidance on how to read the interactive. For example, animations for China and Japan were extracted from the main map to illustrate specific trends highlighted in the text. Additional graphics (bump chart of 12 biggest producer countries over time) transport further analysis.
3. Allow for exploration
Users get all basic relevant information without having to interact with the page. More engaged readers have the chance to answer more specific questions and create additional insights by exploring interactively, though. For example, users can skip to specific years with the time slider, find any place worldwide on the map with a text search and tooltips show detailed information of any specific site and year.