One of the areas where artificial intelligence really excels is in working out scenarios with a huge number of complex variables — like how radiation might spread after an accident at a nuclear power plant. This is the focus of a new AI system developed in Japan, and it’s showing us more accurately than ever before where the safest (and most dangerous) points could be following a meltdown.

Spoiler: stay upwind. While it’s obviously better if nuclear plants don’t fail in the first place, knowing which way the fallout will travel can be crucial in organising emergency responses and keeping people safe.

It can quite literally save lives — and a lot of them. The new AI, developed by a team from the Institute of Industrial Science at the University of Tokyo, is able to factor in accident variables and prevailing weather patterns to work out where the threat of radiation could be worst, up to 33 hours in advance.

“Our new tool was first trained using years of weather-related data to predict where radioactivity would be distributed if it were released from a particular point,” says one of the team, Takao Yoshikane. “In subsequent testing, it could predict the direction of dispersion with at least 85% accuracy, with this rising to 95% in winter when there are more predictable weather patterns.”

You can see the model in action below: That machine learning — using past data to calculate the most likely future outcomes — is crucial in maintaining a high level of accuracy. Existing fallout prediction systems are known to be limited in how much they can be relied upon. Read more from…

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