NOTE TO READERS: The following scenario is not possible. The information and images in this story are provided only for purposes of illustration and comparison.  There is no nuclear power plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

For residents of West Michigan, it may be challenging at times to put into context the size of a geographical area overseas, especially when distances are in terms of kilometers.

In the instance of the nuclear emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the effects of the evacuation and "shelter in place" orders become clearer when compared to a similar area of West Michigan.

The Japanese government has ordered a full evacuation of residents living within 20 kilometers of the plant, which equates to just more than 12.4 miles.  Those living between 20 and 30 km of the reactor have been ordered to stay indoors.  30 kilometers is equal to about 18.6 miles.

So what would that mean in West Michigan?  In a hypothetical emergency where the "Ground Zero" location was in the center of downtown Grand Rapids, at the corner of Fulton and Division, the evacuation area would be wide-reaching within Kent County and some pockets of eastern Ottawa County.

Places in Kent County within 20 kilometers of downtown Grand Rapids include the cities of Wyoming, Walker, Kentwood, East Grand Rapids, and Grandville, along with heavily populated townships like Grand Rapids, Plainfield, Alpine, Ada, Cascade, Gaines, and Byron.  Georgetown, Tallmadge, and Wright townships in Ottawa County would also be included.  As a result, about 526,000 people would be evacuated, according to a rough tabulation based on 2000 census data.

A number of other communities fall in the 20- to 30-kilometer zone, including Coopersville, Allendale, Hudsonville, Caledonia, Rockford, Sparta, Lowell, Cedar Springs, and Dorr, along with parts of their surrounding townships.  Thus, approximately another 150,000 people would be forced to stay inside.

While this is a worst-case scenario involving the most heavily-populated portion of West Michigan, it is a sobering illustration of the extent of the issues caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.