Switzerland’s bizarre nuclear bunker law

Thursday 10th June 2010
Swiss nuclear bunkers two.jpg

It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or admire. To this day, every home in Switzerland has to have a nuclear bunker, or at least access to one.

The law was designed to protect people against the security threats of the Cold War which ended more than 20 years ago.

And despite the war finishing, Switzerland’s reason for keeping the rule is simply a case of why stop now.

The law was introduced in 1963 to ensure all Swiss residents have protection against a nuclear attack.

Each household can choose to build a nuclear bunker in their basement, or pay for access to a community bunker. Supplies inside should last for up to several weeks.

The law seems to reinforce Switzerland’s determined belief that it can protect itself.

For instance, the Swiss still teach their school children that the reason the Nazis didn’t invade them in WW2 was due to their superior mountain tactics, and not the Nazi money stored in their bank vaults.

Whatever the mentality, the bunker law has certainly led to some impressive feats of engineering – most notably the Sonnenberg Tunnel.

When the town of Lucerne was lacking bunker capacity for several thousand people in the early 1970s, they copied an idea from the British who hid in London’s underground stations during the blitz (Germany’s bombing campaign).

The Lucerne local government redesigned their new 1.5km motorway tunnel to also serve as the world’s largest nuclear shelter.

Each of the tunnel’s 1.5 metre thick, 350 tonne steel doors ensured it was capable of withstanding a one megaton nuclear bomb a kilometre away. That’s 70 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb.

Inside were bunk beds for up to 20,000 people, a mini-hospital, a prison, night and day lights and a command post.

Massive air filters were installed to supply the inhabitants with 192 cubic metres of non-radio-active air each day.

There was even a plan for a post office inside until people questioned its usefulness during a nuclear war.

Despite the achievement though, doubt set in about the tunnel’s logistical and engineering capabilities after some organising difficulties and the doors failed to close properly during a 1987 test drill.

As a result, the tunnel’s capacity was down-scaled to 2,000 people in 2005.

Even so, the country still has over 270,000 bunkers capable of accommodating the entire Swiss population of 7.8 million. Some places even have the luxury of choice for those who don’t get along.

But such protection and security comes at a price. Building an underground bunker equipped with blast-resistant concrete adds about US$6,000 or 4% to the cost of an average house.

So why carry on with this doomsday requirement when the threat has largely disappeared?

The government’s reasoning is that they’ve already built all these bunkers, so they may as well just carry on. Besides, a new threat could emerge at any time.

The opposition in Switzerland say this is ridiculous. They believe the bunkers are useless against the modern threats of terrorism, meaning all they are doing is building expensive wine cellars.

Indeed, wine cellars and ski storage seem to be their most popular function these days. Other uses include a room for pool tables, band practices, wrestling competitions, bowling alleys and saunas. One man even converted his into a giant pizza oven.

The Swiss government actually encourages those with private bunkers to use them for alternative purposes. The way they see it, a bunker used is a bunker maintained.

The only requirement is that it must be able to be cleaned up and returned to emergency condition within 24 hours – beds in place, bare walls, no oxygen depleting carpet, and to contain the necessary food, water and medicine.

The idea behind the timeframe is that given modern communication systems, the government should be able to provide a public warning 24 hours before any attack.

The Swiss authorities still run regular tests to make sure their sirens work and that all the bunkers are up to scratch.

It’s a type of paranoia that the rest of the world probably finds amusing. But you never know, the time may come where the Swiss end up having the last laugh, literally.

By The Casual Truth

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