The Apocalypse will be a lot like flying coach

What could possibly make a 1960s-era nuclear war worse than you'd already assumed it would be? How about being packed like sardines into a fallout shelter with 13 of your soon-to-be-closest friends?

Frank Munger is a senior reporter with the Knoxville News Sentinel, where he covers Oak Ridge National Laboratory—a nearby energy research facility that previously did a lot of civil defense research. Munger turned up this, and several other photos, of mockup nuclear shelter arrangements tested out in the basement at ORNL when the facility was trying to establish best practice scenarios for surviving the Apocalypse.

They look ... less than pleasant.

That said, though, they may not have been meant as long-term arrangements. Munger linked to an Atlantic article that makes an interesting case related to these photos: If what you're talking about is one relatively small nuclear bomb (as opposed to massive, hydrogen bomb, mutually assured destruction scenarios), the idea of "Duck and Cover" isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. If you could get these 14 people out of the way of the fallout for a couple weeks, their chances of survival would rise exponentially. Fallout shelters were not meant to be "the place you and your people live for the next 50 years."

The radiation from fallout can be severe -- the bigger the bomb, and the closer it is the the ground, the worse the fallout, generally -- but it decays according to a straightforward rule, called the 7/10 rule: Seven hours after the explosion, the radiation is 1/10 the original level; seven times that interval (49 hours, or two days) it is 1/10 of that, or 1/100 the original, and seven times that interval (roughly two weeks) it is 1/1000 the original intensity.

See the rest of Frank Munger's photos of ORNL fallout shelter mockups.Read the rest of The Atlantic article on "duck and cover".



  1. During the period of above ground testing at the Nevada test site the prevailing winds carried the fallout over Parowan, Utah. Its citizens came out to see the passing clouds from the detonation and many died years later of cancers you wouldn’t expect to see in a largely Mormon community. No warnings were given.
    M.T. Silvia has produced “Atomic Mom” which was inspired by the fact that her mother was a scientist working with animal exposure to radiation during the Nevada tests.

  2. That guy on the bottom bunk will be wearing a gas mask to sleep after everyone has been eating beans for a week.

  3. “After Jacob’s third attempt to covert them to Scientology, they all realised it was going to be a long fortnight.”

  4. Short-sleeved white shirt with skinny black worm tie?  Check
    Plastic pocket protector with 12 pens and pencils?  Check
    Black horn-rim glasses?  Check
    Early 60s nerdwear fashion at its finest. 

  5. “Don’t worry, we have a lifetime supply of skinny black ties and pocket protectors in here.”

  6. Hell just might be other people. 

    I don’t work in an office anymore, but I think the prospect of spending three weeks knee-to-knee with my officemates might have made me consider taking my chances with the fallout.   I doubt my ex-boss would have survived, given how some of the staff felt (and, for all I know, continue to feel) about that person.

  7. Just a minor point, but ORNL is not just a “energy research facility that previously did a lot of civil defense research.” It continues to conduct work on various nuclear and non-nuclear related national security programmes. It is also co-located with major facilities involved in ongoing nuclear weapons related work.

  8. Yeah! Me in a fallout shelter for two weeks with a wheel of swiss cheese, only the finest civil defense  crackers, a few bottles of wine, and the fact that I’m mildly lactose intolerant. 

  9. Huh, I never realized that it’s the radioactive dust that gets you. I guess that explains why you’re still allowed to breathe the (filtered) air.

  10. Please, please, pleeeeeeeeeze let the next season of The Walking Dead take place entirely in one of these bunkers with all of the survivors trapped inside.

    Comedy gold!

  11. “Hey baby, Let’s meet at the other end of the pipe after your husband falls asleep.  What could go wrong?”

  12. I have to wonder how much space there is beyond the benches and beds.  Certainly there needs to be a store room for food and water at least.  Maybe they’re just supposed to be packet up on the floor in the empty space between the beds, but that part isn’t clear to me.  

  13. Smell and a bucket toilet are minor problems, the killer is humid heat. I hope they tried out good hand cranked fans and filters and not only sardine packing of people.

  14. “OK everybody! C’mon, all together now! ‘NINETY NINE BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, NINETY-NINE BOT'” CRUNCH

    “Um, do we have a new volunteer for entertainment coordinator? You’ll be excused from helping clean up Walt’s head here.”

  15. I see 5 skinny people sitting close together on each side, so the bunks are about 6′ long.  in the top right bunk, there are two women “sleeping” with heads at opposite ends.  I can barely imagine 2 small women sleeping on a 16-18″ wide surface like that….what about the menz?

    They’d have to sleep in shifts, like on a submarine, but without any hatches closing off (most) lights and noise.

    Having just come back from a camping trip during which only one person was a snorer — all it takes is one — I shudder to think what sleep deprivation while sharing a tin can this size would do for morale.

  16. Apparently the white short sleeved shirt, tie, and pocket protector dress code is strictly enforced.

    No entry for non-compliance.

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