If you still have nightmares of the Cold War nuclear threat, these photos won’t help

bombshelter1.jpgORNL archives
bombshelter2.jpgWhen Tim Gawne passed along these photographs from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory archives, I had a brief flashback to the Cold War atmosphere at its darkest times and got a small case of the shudders. ORNL was among the federal facilities engaged in Civil Defense research. Indeed, Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner returned to Oak Ridge for a period to help with the effort. Pictured here are multiple mock-ups of bomb shelter arrangements. They were staged in the basement of ORNL’s 4500 North complex. Last year, I posted some thoughts about UT Law Prof Glenn Reynolds’ excellent piece in The Atlantic, “The Unexpected Return of ‘Duck and Cover,’ “ which not only reminded us about the real-life consequences of an atomic bomb explosion but gave it some context in the 21st Century. According to Gawne, these photos were taken in August 1965. Based on the jam-packed human arrangements, I hope these shelters were for short-term use only. A lot of things are bearable, of course, when you’re talking about survival.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.

19 thoughts on “If you still have nightmares of the Cold War nuclear threat, these photos won’t help

  1. Dave Herring

    Look how thin these folks are!!!! If the same shelter were designed today, only half as many would fit.

  2. Mr Fever Head

    The sq ft dimension of floor space on the middle picture is wrong. It should be 8 sq foot per stack of sitters.

  3. Formerly known as Skeptic

    Read it again Mr Fever head. It clearly says “4 sq. ft. per sitter” which is correct. The floor area is 8 sq. ft. divided by two sitters stacked above it.

  4. tim maguire

    It may look crowded now, but give them a week.
    After they’re done killing each other in irritation over pet peeves, the two left (the biggest man and the hottest woman) will ride out the storm quite nicely and emerge to start a new super-race.

  5. Old guy

    People took this stuff seriously. In the early 1960s two families on my block built underground concrete bunkers.

  6. Dave Herring

    In west Texas in the late 50s and early 60s, a lot of farm families buried railroad boxcars and made shelters out of them, both for tornadoes and nuclear apocalypse.

  7. AzA

    Too young for this era first hand, but I was once sorely tempted to buy a decrepit and overpriced house because it had an awesome 1950s bomb shelter in the back yard….

  8. Callmelennie

    Why would it necesarily be the biggest man, T-mac? It could be the most treacherous bastard that survives. He could conspire with another dude to double team and take out the big man early on, then backstab his ally later. Never discount the power of rat bastardry
    Of course, it goes without saying that the hottest babe would survive. Then the two would couple and basically create the same human race as before

  9. Orion

    I don’t even want to THINK about the sewage and hygiene arrangements – and how those are going to become very optional when you can’t go outside due to fallout…

  10. tom swift

    In those halcyon days they were more worried about blast than fallout. And they had a point. Survive the blast first, then worry about the long-term stuff in, well, the long term. The reverse – fretting about fallout while ignoring blast – wouldn’t do anyone much good. The modern fashion – to ignore the possibilities and ridicule any attempt to surmount difficulties – is perhaps the worst option of all.

  11. IcePilot

    The post-nuclear war poisoning of Gaia has been consistently overblown. Could you last a week, and then take basic precautions for a few weeks afterwards?

  12. ET

    Looks about like the Snipe’s Berthing Compartment on the Navy DE I served aboard in the mid-60’s except we racked four high. If you were a Noob assigned to the high rack you became intimate with the ventilation duct.

  13. Bill

    So armageddon is no different than flying coach. I think I’d rather risk the radiation, giant scorpions, Salt Lake City full of cockroaches and Jan Michael Vincent.

  14. Diggs

    In the last picture, the people aren’t sleeping in cots, they are in storage for later eating by the nefarious egghead in the center. Even as the picture was taken he was imagining how good “live storage unit top right” was going to taste.

  15. Philboyd Studge

    “The fourth night that Chester drew the short straw, he knew he’d been had. Murray would not survive one more hour in a hammock.”

  16. DaveK

    I think I’d rather take my chances with the fallout then be in that butt sniffer position. Or I’d just have to kill everyone else in the shelter that first night with my mad ninja skillz. More food for me!

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