Before the Berlin Wall fell, before the Soviet
Union imploded, we feared mutually assured destruction. From the 1950s
until some 40 years later, the threat of nuclear war loomed large, inspiring
nightmares among children and adults alike. In fact, for years, being
a survivalist implied having a bomb shelter.
But with the fall of communism, that all changed. The United States
was the only superpower, and the threat of nuclear war diminished. But
the threat of a nuclear attack or accident did not.
While we may not have to fear thousands of nuclear warheads raining
down on our centers of population and industry, the threat of a "suitcase"
nuclear bomb carried into place by suicidal terrorists is more real
than ever. Our intelligence agencies tell us that the Al Queda and other
terrorist organizations are looking to buy or build bombs, and the old
Soviet system has left thousands of trained scientists with no way to
earn a living. Countries like Iraq and North Korea have nuclear weapon
development programs. Even "friendly" countries like Pakistan
have nuclear arsenals that may, through a coup or even an election,
one day fall into control of hands that are not friendly to the U.S.
The threat of a a suicide attack on a nuclear power plant is causing
folks to question their geographical location. And the possibility of
a rogue nation lobbing a few missiles at us has our president intent
on spending billions on a high-tech umbrella to keep the country safe.
The bad news is that we must again consider how to protect ourselves
from a nuclear disaster. The good news is that we can probably worry
less about blast shelters that protect us from the overpressure of a
20 megaton bomb and focus more on protecting ourselves from the fallout
caused by a smaller bomb, an attack on a nuclear plant, or a "dirty
bomb" that relies on conventional explosives to spread radiation.
Traditionally, people think of dying in blast when a nuclear warhead
goes off, but there are other dangers, too. Don't get me wrong -- he
blast itself will certainly kill you if you are close to it. Death and
serious injury will also be caused by the thermal effects of the bomb,
which can give third degree burns six to eight miles away and first
degree burns to someone 10 to 12 miles away from a one megaton blast.
More death will be caused by the bomb's radiation and even more by the
high dose of radiation carried downwind as nuclear fallout.
To protect yourself from the radiation and fallout, you need a fallout
shelter. To protect yourself from the bomb's blast, you need a blast
shelter. Blast shelters are usually buried deeper than fallout shelters,
have hardened doors blast valves and are designed to withstand over
pressure and negative pressure associated with a nuclear blast. If you
live at or near a place that could be ground zero because it is of strategic
importance, you are better off with a blast shelter. For most of us,
however, a fallout shelter will do.
Fallout shelters are designed to provide a secure location -- often
underground or at least partially underground -- where you can avoid
all or most of the radiation from fallout -- tiny irradiated particles
that rain down from the sky after a nuclear explosion. Fallout shelters
rely on earth, sand, cement, brick, cement block or other dense material
to block the radiation until it lessens due to the half life. A shelter
should, at the minimum, allow only 1/40th of the radiation to get through,
and designs that block all but 1/100th or 1/250th more are superior.
The better the shielding, the safer you will be.
Four feet of earth is considered the minimum amount of shielding you
should have if you are in a hot fallout zone. More shielding is, of
course, better. You should expect to stay in the shelter a minimum of
two weeks and plan on sleeping in it for longer. Again, the longer you
are prepared to stay in the shelter, the safer you will be.
Although expedient shelters can be created by digging a deep trench
and covering it up with dirt (See Nuclear
War Survival Skills for expedient shelters) or by hiding in basements
and subway tunnels, true shelters are far superior because they are
designed to provide the at least the bare minimum required to live there
the weeks or months required for the local radiation level to drop,