How to Design a Nuclear Fallout Shelter

Nuclear fallout shelters have been stigmatized as the ultimate prep for the paranoid and the butt of many jokes. But now that we’ve all been reminded that nuclear accidents can happen, nobody is laughing anymore. My hope is that nuclear preparedness becomes a topic we’re more comfortable talking about again. I’d hate to see us succumb to fear mongering and instead educate ourselves, prepare for the possibility, and work toward eliminating nuclear power and weapons.

The Cold War seemed to create a general misconception – that a nuclear incidents are not survivable. So most folks just gave up on the topic assuming there was nothing we could do. Even well-intentioned documentaries like Countdown to Zero tend to leave the viewer with a total sense of dread and hopelessness. The truth is that reactor accidents and blasts are survivable because radioactivity diminishes faster then we might think. After the initial incident those that stayed sheltered would be left to rebuild, just like those who survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Life would eventually return to a level of normalcy.

A misunderstanding of half-life might also be contributing to the general confusion about radiation. Reactor waste (like fuel rods) takes thousands of years to decay; but fallout from a nuclear blast can return to safe levels (for evacuation) in as little as three to five weeks. This mix up, and Hollywood, are probably the culprits for the spreading of the idea that nuclear fallout will destroy life for thousands of years – which is nonsense.

This doesn’t mean we should allow the continued proliferation of nuclear reactors and weapons unless we want to eventually move underground, but while we are busy demanding the end of nukes, we should also be educating ourselves about the necessary tools and techniques for surviving nuclear accidents and blasts.

I’m not an expert fallout shelter designer, but the basics are easy to understand. So now that we’ve all been reminded that radiation from nuclear fallout is all bad, lets move onto fallout shelters.

Fallout Shelter Basics

The basic design principals are simple. The more mass and/or distance you put between you and radiation the better. A useful analogy for understanding the nature of radiation is to think of it as heat you can’t see, feel, hear, taste, or smell. The farther you are away from any heat source, and the more stuff between you and the heat source, the less likely you are to be burned.

It’s also important to understand that the amount of time you’re exposed to radiation the more of an adverse affect it will have on your body. So while the amount of radiation currently coming across the Pacific is insignificant, over time it could be a bigger problem if the source is not contained.

Since we can’t detect nuclear radiation without special instruments we’re vulnerable. For civil defense purposes there are two primary types of meters, survey meters and dosimeters. A survey meter (like a Geiger counter) detects the amount of radiation currently present. A dosimeter tells you how much exposure you’ve had over time. Both are useful because the survey meter can alert you to the source and intensity of a danger while a dosimeter can tell you how much total radiation you’ve received.

Unfortunately very few people have access survey meters or dosimeters. To make matters worse store shelves are currently bare as a result of the nuclear accident in Japan. As soon as supplies become available it might be a worthwhile investment and there are some low-cost options like the NukAlert and the RADSticker. But I also suspect a whole new generation of civil defense meters will flood the market as companies work to meet the renewed demand.

This illustration, found in a recently published guide from The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shows the safest places to take shelter in buildings. As you can see the deeper you are inside a building, surrounded by the mass of the building and/or ground outside, the safer you’ll be. This is a good tactical strategy to know in an emergency but also a good visual teaching tool for understanding what is needed to shield yourself from radiation.

As you can see from the illustration above, typical homes provide little protection against radiation. This is simply because most of our homes are built from relatively lightweight materials. Below is an illustration I whipped up based on shielding design information available on Wikipedia.

Some materials shield against radiation better than others. Each of the wall thicknesses below shield the same amount of radiation. Lead provides the thinnest wall while packed soil provides the most cost effective wall, albeit at 3-feet thick compared to 4 inches of lead. For more information see this wikipedia article on radiation protection.

The drawing below shows three ways to build a house, kind of like the the story of The Three Little Pigs.

  • The first house (left) is what most of us in America occupy, lightweight stick-framed structures framed with 2x4s. The walls are thin and have virtually no mass.
  • The second house (center) represents an earthen home, like an adobe or earthbag home with a conventional roof. The thick walls would provide a lot more shielding than the stick-framed home, but the roof would still allow radiation from any airborne fallout to penetrate the home from above.
  • The third house (right) has 2-foot thick concrete walls and dome masonry roof. This house would provide the most protection and is the recommended minimum thickness for an above ground concrete fallout shelter.

In an article titled, U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable (December 2010), The New York Times reveals that the U.S. Government is now recommending that people should stay inside until we’re told it’s safe to go out – instead of making a run for it – even if you’re home is a flimsy box.

While this seems crazy at first it actually makes sense because the number one thing that will hurt you in a nuclear disaster (after blast effects) is inhaling or ingesting radioactive material. If you get radioactive material on your body you should wash it off gently. If radioactive material gets into your bloodstream through a cut, eyes, mouth, etc, it can’t be washed off. So you’re best odds are to stay inside/under the safest building around – and to stay inside until the radioactive material has decayed to safe levels.

So just to recap, the basic shelter requirements are:

  • Ample mass to block the radiation
  • Air filtration to prevent inhaling or ingesting radioactive material
  • Water and food for several weeks
  • Radiation meters
  • Energy sources both electric and burnable fuel
  • Radio for communications
  • Simple waste disposal
  • A way to wash off radioactive material
  • Security measures
  • Since radiation can’t make turns, use 90-degree turns at doorways and air ducts

Fallout Shelter Design Study

Below is an illustration of a shelter I whipped up using information from the available sources as guides. To build an underground shelter like this would require some careful engineering and construction expertise – so please do not attempt to build a shelter solely from what you read here. Do your homework and due dilligence before embarking on any project with a multi-ton roof. A roof cave-in will hurt you faster than radiation.

It’s one room with two entrances. The room is 6′ 8″ wide and 12′ 8″ long, which also ironically happens to be about the size of many trailer-based tiny houses.

The design is intended for a family of four. At one end is a set of fold-down bunks that could double as seating space when the family is not in bed. Below the bottom bunks would be space for food and water storage in 5-gallon buckets.

Dividing the bunks from the main living space are two tall cabinets (or lockers) for the occupants’ possessions, which would be mostly clothing, books, and personal items. These items, as well as the food and water, would need to be stocked and stored prior to a disaster so that the family could escape to the shelter as soon as a threat was detected.

The main living space would also contain additional water storage (110 gallons in two stacked 55 gallon drums) a small food preparation space, four folding chairs, and a fold-out table.

The toilet (bucket-style sawdust toilet) would be located in the main entryway just outside the interior shelter door on the bunk-side of the shelter. The toilet end of the entryway would be as well shielded from radiation as the main shelter but would provide a little more privacy from the main shelter. The potential oder from the simple emergency toilet would also carried outside by cross ventilation.

Air itself doesn’t become radioactive, the problem is the radioactive particles in the air. So the air entering the shelter must be filtered to prevent fallout particles from being carried inside. Some suggest that one micron filters be used but others say 90-degree turns in hallways and ducts are sufficient. A non-electric ventilation option is a Kearney Air Pump.

The doors and hatches would need to be vented to allow the cross ventilation. Low voltage fans would be needed to keep the air moving. Air would enter the shelter through the rear (smaller) entrance. It would cross the main shelter and then escape through the main (larger) entrance. Both entrances would provide a space for washing-off contamination before entering the shelter. The runoff water would need to be carried away by a drain or pumped outside since it would contain radioactive particles.

This brings up the issue of electricity. In an actual emergency the likelihood of the electric grid going down is high; so this tiny shelter would need to be completely off-the-grid and powered by external solar panels or human power. Solar panels would run the risk of being covered with fallout, so some kind of human power generator backup would need to be available. The reliance on electricity would need to be limited to lighting, ventilation, and communication simply due to the lack of power.

Another item to stock would be heating and cooking fuel. While subterranean structures naturally regulate their temperature, they are not typically warm unless some kind of passive solar heating or artificial heat source is used. In a space this small the occupants’ body heat may actually make the interior fairly hot after some time has passed. But having a way to heat the shelter with a clean-burning fuel would be a good idea too.

Lower-Cost / Multi-Function Shelter Examples

The shelter I’ve drawn here could be expensive to build and truthfully, the whole neighborhood would know you built it due to the size of the hole. So I’m guessing that most folks aren’t going to be building this kind of purpose-built fallout shelters.

I suspect most people will want something that will provide multiple functions. They’ll probably be modifying their current homes or building outbuildings with more shielding than their current homes. Here are some examples of small buildings I’ve some across in the past that would make decent fallout shelters.

  • Earthbag Root Celler – This is a design from the Earthbag Building Blog. It’s not a fallout shelter but it would make a good one.
  • Earthbag Survival Shelter – Also at the Earthbag Building Blog.
  • Instructable: How to Build an Earthbag Dome
  • Low-Cost Root Cellar – Mother Earth News is a great place to find root cellar designs.
  • Cave or Mine – In some areas you may already have a hole in your backyard. This is a story of a fellow that made a home inside a mine.
  • Adobe Casita – While this house has thick walls it would need added shielding in the roof and windows.
  • Stone House – Got rocks? This is a bit extreme but would probably work well.
  • Concrete pipe house – Design concept for a underground circular space.


There isn’t a whole lot of information out there about nuclear survival. Here are some good places to start learning.

Did I miss something?

If you’re an expert on the topic please contribute by commenting on this post. My intention is to help educate and help lessen the taboo on the topic of nuclear disaster preparedness. Thanks!



46 thoughts on “How to Design a Nuclear Fallout Shelter

  1. John Gadbois says:

    The most important point is that when all the worst possibilities have occurred (9.0 earthquake, 23 foot tsunami, loss of power grid) that NOT A SINGLE LIFE HAS BEEN LOST BECAUSE OF THE REACTORS. 20,000 plus people have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami and you are putting up articles about fallout shelters. It make way more sense to put up articles about earthquake and tsunami safety.

    People are being needlessly frightened by poor journalism and ignorant bloggers. This is inexcusable. The threat to people outside Japan is too small to measure.

    I have worked as a Radiological Controls Tech as well as Reactor Operator so I have education and experience on the subject.

    • Michael Janzen says:


      First you’re comparing apples and oranges… an enormous natural disaster and a human made disaster. We have a choice to close nuclear power plants, we do not have a choice to have have no more earthquakes.

      Also the effects of the first (earthquake/tsunami) create immediate effects so the impacts (deaths, damage) are mostly front-loaded. The nuclear disaster’s impact will most certainly be felt for years as cancer deaths and other negative effects emerge over time.

      People are frightened because they no virtually nothing about how to protect themselves against a nuclear threat. There is a wealth of information out there on non-nuclear disaster relief and I’ve blogged many times brainstorming solutions right here on Tiny House Design. What is missing is exactly what I’ve posted here… information that few will touch due to the taboo nature associated with nuclear power.

      I respect your years of service to the nuclear industry and imagine you must have extensive experience with the topic. But you must also admit you might be a bit biased as an insider.

      The bottom line is that non-renewable energy like nuclear, oil, coal, natural gas, are killing us. Everything we’ve built relies on it and we’re now seeing the fragility of our civilization’s foundations.

      This is humanity’s opportunity to turn catastrophe into progress and move away from these high risk energy sources, downsize, conserve, and rebuild a foundation based on renewable energy.

      • Peter Munro says:


        I am a Health and Radiation Physicist, with a minor in Nuclear Reactor Design. I have been an assistant operator at a Nuclear Reactor. I have also won awards for developing solar energy projects. I have 2 electric cars. I also have KI in the refrigerator, and access to a community with a 10,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter.

        If you do not like using coal, oil, nuclear or any other non-renewable energy sources then don’t. If you are not part of the solution and have solar, or wind etc you are part of the problem. Don’t complain about nuclear, etc if you use it.

        Man Made Global Warming is a HOAX. The temperature of the Earth is determined by the activity, of the sun, the color of the earth, the tilt angle of the earth, and how circular the earths orbit is. We are entering a cooling phase. The temperature of the Earth will drop 0.2-0.5 degrees from its high. and sea level will drop 20-60mm from its high before 2025. Insulate your homes etc. Also check out aerogel.

        Man made global warming was invented to reduce the use of oil. Many large exporters of oil hate the west and use oil revenue to buy weapons to use against the west. This included Russia. The best way to prevent nuclear war and nuclear accident is to stop using imported oil, and nuclear. If Russia did not sell oil to the west it could not buy food to feed people who make nuclear weapons.

        To stop the Chinese threat, stop buying products from China. China uses western trade to buy food to feed their military, and workers who make weapons and island, and buy oil.

        Most communist countries are net importers of food. Many communist revolutions are caused by hunger. The collapse of the Soviet Union, was caused by a shortage of food. If we all pull together and reduce oil, and not buy Chinese this can be repeated.

        People should also grow some of their own food from landrace, or wild varieties. The oldest varieties of seed require the least amount of work. Growing wild organic food using no-till techniques can be done with very little labor and manually powered machines. see, and the wild organic study facebook page that will be up soon.

        I suggest that everyone in the west work more, don’t buy from our enemies, and create more energy than they use. This is the only hope to have a safe world.

        Do not give your enemies money to buy weapons.

        • Tom says:

          What about the USA certainly has invaded more countries than anyone. USA has funded the Taleban and created Al Queda while giving Saudi Arabia a free pass to push Wahhabi fundamentalist Islam. Perhaps the USA is the one everyone should stop buying from. Dollar as a reserve currency is on the way out. Should be interesting to see what you can sell to the world besides weapons to kill people.

    • Kate says:

      John, I agree that many people a long way away from Japan are overreacting in the light of the current situation. There is no need for people in Europe or the USA to feel personally threatened by the radiation leaking from the Fukushima reactors.

      However, I’m troubled by your statement because of two reasons:

      1st, you claim (in all caps) that not a single life has been lost because of the reactors. To which I have one word to add: YET. Radiation doesn’t work like an earthquake or a tsunami, or a bomb, for that matter; it doesn’t kill instantly. However, many people in the immediate vicinity of the reactors have been experiencing levels of radiation over the past couple of weeks that will most probably damage their health and possibly cause their death eventually. Some of the workers sent into the damaged reactors have already had to be hospitalised because of the dangerous dose of radiation they were submitted to. Your statement is still true today, but I’m not sure how it will hold up in the coming weeks, months and years.

      My second objection to the sentiment of your post is that people are not only worried because of the Fukushima plant. They are also worried because in many countries there are nuclear reactors that were built a few decades ago and don’t have the high standard of safety that they ought to have. Japan isn’t the only earthquake zone in the world, and many countries are revising whether the reactors in their own countries could withstand a similar natural catastrophe. I think that when dealing with a force that can potentially be so destructive, it’s only right to think ahead and be cautious.

      I commend Michael for his thoughts and ideas on this matter.

    • Jeremy says:

      I live less than 10 miles from a top 10 nuclear war target. And I’m building a root cellar and appreciate the info as I am looking at what I can to help my family survive. Within budget mind you. Thanks for posting the info.

      • Michael Janzen says:

        Thanks Jeremy. If you wouldn’t mind sharing your project on Tiny House Design I’d be happy to post it – all privacy and location info would be respected of course.

    • littlebit says:

      I myself do not think a lot of the people building shelters and giving good information to others so they know how to protect their loved ones is so bad, I don’t have a shelter but am happy for those who do and I do not think the main concern is nuclear power plant fallout, I think it is probably nuclear bombs most people who build the shelters are thinking of. Those who are building please correct me if I am wrong. I do not understand why someone would take these things so personal and say that the information is to frightening, we are all adults and should be able to read about it or not, if it’s to much for someone to handle then they should not read about it. I thank those who give the information, it shows they care about others enough to take the time to do it. and the fact that I believe what the bible says gives me reason to believe it will happen.
      If Japan, the United States, or Europe retreats from nuclear power in the face of the current panic, the most likely alternative energy source is fossil fuel. And by any measure, fossil fuel is more dangerous. The sole fatal nuclear power accident of the last 40 years, Chernobyl, directly killed 31 people. By comparison, Switzerland’s Paul Scherrer Institute calculates that from 1969 to 2000, more than 20,000 people died in severe accidents in the oil supply chain. More than 15,000 people died in severe accidents in the coal supply chain—11,000 in China alone. The rate of direct fatalities per unit of energy production is 18 times worse for oil than it is for nuclear power.

    • Jay says:

      Then visit a website providing earthquake and tsunami safety. This is safety for something completely different and has great purpose when you see the direction that this world is going. Your point is completely invalid to this topic, nonconstructive and unwanted.

    • HDnBlues says:

      That’s to funny because Kelseyville CA. was up around 3500 cpm a few weeks ago. Three years ago some people I know stood in their enclosed (screen) patio during a rain storm at Crescent City CA. which is on the coast line. They all became sick from radiation. Not seriously but they had varied symptoms. So college boy, don’t go around talking about things you obviously missed in school. If you are going to comment at least do some research so you can report facts. We’ve all had enough bs to last a few lifetimes in this country. I worked at San Onofre Nuclear Power plant so I am a little bit familiar. Nuff said.

  2. David Reed says:

    THANK YOU MICHAEL!!! as soon as I started to read Johns post I was thinking, what is his angle here…. excellent reply to him Michael!!

  3. et says:

    At some point you would need to emerge from the shelter. Surviving the new reality that awaits for more than an hour would be a far bigger challenge than building a shelter.

    Consider the emotional, psychological and practical aftermath.

  4. Sheri says:

    Good info. There are nuclear reactors all over the country, any one of them could be subject to an accident, terrorist attack, earthquake, or other incident.

    Many people will be shocked to discover they are still alive after a nuke attack or accident. That’s when knowledge such as this will make the difference between life and death.

  5. Kate says:

    My grandparents actually built a fallout shelter because it was part of the building code for the area in the 80s. It was just a square room in the cellar with extra-insulated walls, a thick metal door, and an air-filtration system that worked with either electricity or a hand crank (not sure how that worked, but that’s how I remember it).

    From my experience of standing in the room for 10 minutes and feeling seriously claustrophobic, these would be my suggestions for a shelter: consider that you’d have to live in this shelter for an extended period of time if you have to use it at all. Furnish it accordingly. Include board games, books or magazines and dynamo-operated flashlights in the inventory of the shelter. Check the expiry date of stored food at least once a year and make sure it’ll still be edible if you ever end up having to use it. Consider a way to have a working radio in the shelter (maybe have the antenna go through the air vent?), or how will you know when it’s safe to get out?

    Btw, Michael, I like how you actually have an extra room for the toilet. My grandparents had a chemical toilet standing in the corner of their shelter, with a shower-curtain around it. I think that would not be the most desirable option. I’m glad we never had to use it.

  6. Doc says:

    As someone who has studied this stuff forever I only have a couple of complaints about your design.

    The biggest one is floor space. In the war scenario, you’re gonna be stuck down there for a minimum of 2 weeks. You’ll need to be able to move around freely just to keep your health and sanity. Not a big deal in a tiny house because you’re free to go outside, but try not leaving a tiny house for two weeks or more.

    The second is for the best radiation protection, the shelter should be at least 8 feet underground at the roof.

    My final thought of course is to bear in mind while this would make an excellent fallout shelter, it is by no means a blast shelter. It’ll work great as long as you’re nowhere near a target. The earth arching you have in the design will help, but being constructed of concrete (even reinforced) it’s not the best design to mitigate ground shock. If that concrete cracks (even if it didn’t fail and collapse) you’d have groundwater flooding the shelter. Which would force you out into the fallout.

    The best blast shelters are made from either fiberglass or corrugated steel, and are designed to flex some under ground shock conditions. Utah Shelter Systems and Radius Engineering would be great examples of blast shelter manufacturers.

  7. streamfortyseven says:

    Malcolm Wells made a number of underground house designs which could be easily adapted for this purpose. If you’ve got a stick-built house with a basement, consider putting on a steel roof with a water pipe at the top, so you could wash fallout down the roof, into the gutters and into a cistern. That would help considerably.

    Here’s a link to Malcolm Wells’ designs, any of which would make a good fallout shelter due to the reinforced concrete roof with earth covering:

  8. Mark says:

    Well no one really knows how long would one need to stay in the shelter, could be 2 to 3 weeks or months on end or maybe a year or two maybe more who knows. You need water, food, air purifire, power, books, so on, and would one go mental living in a combined space or sharing with someone else, would you start to hate each other after a time couped up with each other, and for keeping one clean having a wash, i spent one week in the bush without having a wash, i tell ya I stunk, and you need the water to do that, I am not putting shelters down in anyway I would love to have one, The cost to build one is not in everyones pockets, this is just something to think about.

    • Jay says:

      I see your point but by the point where you need to use this shelter, just think. You’re probably not going to care. You’re probably thinking more about your friends, loved ones and the rest of your community outside the shelter who are more than likely dead. When it comes down to survival, this will suffice the uncomfortable duration.

  9. John from the Pacific NW says:

    I found your article very interesting and informative. I liked the links. Thank you
    . I have bookmarked it for future reference.

    I worked in the industry but not from a reactor operational standpoint. I worked in the military on the weapon side of things. Many of my friends did work in the reactor operational side and, even though the reactor operation field and the weapons field both deal with radiation challenges, I can tell you that the information distributed, and the information necessary to do the job, is dramatically different from one filed to the other.

    Something you may look into: your comment
    “Air itself doesn’t become radioactive”
    had me thinking of radioactive iodine-131 , a gas, which is not filtered from the air by shelter filtration systems and would be (or should be) of concern to anyone seeking shelter from a nuclear weapons detonation. Just something to think about

    Concerning your comment: “the whole neighborhood would know you built it due to the size of the hole”.
    While that is true, the construction can be somewhat hidden. A person can build a shed, garage, pool, etc. . . .and tell neighbors that the extra construction is due to obstructing rocks and buried stumps that require removal.

    Or a person could tell neighbors that you are increasing the size of your basement with the intent of adding an addition to your home, down the road, when more money is available. Just do not tell your neighbors that the basement addition has 2 foot thick walls and hardened blast doors that would be found on a bunker.

    I think that the Swiss have a good handle on things. They require all new construction to include a shelter.

    Other interesting (put you to sleep) reads and links on the subject:

    “The effects of nuclear weapons”
    It is very expensive now to obtain the hard cover but it is in public domain and can be had for free on the internet. (I obtained the hard cover before the internet was available)

    The following seems to be a slide show of very interesting information that gives an good and quick overview of info from long and sleep inducing read “The effects of nuclear weapons”

    “Structure Shielding Against Fallout Gamma Rays From Nuclear Detonations” (NBS special publication 570) has a great deal of good information. This book is also an expensive hard cover book but it is in public domain and is available for free download on the internet. (yes I have the hard cover of this too)

  10. Mike Jacobson says:

    I am building a room in my basement to serve as a walk-in safe/ storm shelter/safe room and decided to do some research on fallout shelters to see what I can do affordably to improve this shelter. I found an article on packing concrete bricks between the floor joists to provide more mass to provide additional protection from fallout. I am also going to be remodeling the bedroom above it. I was wondering how much fallout protection would be provided if I put some 1/16″ sheet lead down on the floor of the bedroom prior to installing a floating wood floor.

  11. Narref04 says:

    Thanks for the links/info. Anyone reading this would hopefuly be doing so while thinking about preparedness. Theuy won’t build a shelter and not stock it, nor will/or should they build something made out of rice paper. If you live in tornado prone area, your home should have a shelter. If you live in an area where hurricanes or earthquakes are prevelant you need to have food/water for you and your family. We have seen, time after time, Katrina, Sandy, etc. The government will not be able to help you. you need to help yourself. If you use your “fall out shelter” as nothing more than a storage room/wine cellar, then at least you where prepared. But better that, than being the one with 2 days of food and water in your house when disaster, no matter what that may be, strikes!

  12. yoni says:

    here is israel most construction is from some sort of concrete, often (apperantly) reinforced by steel grids crisscrossing the entire structure. (outside thickness seems to me to be around 6 inches to 1 foot depending, sometimes in excess of a foot and a half)

    but I’m still trying to figure out what that means for fallout protection.

    • Michael Janzen says:

      1 foot of concrete is 5 halving thicknesses. 10 halving thicknesses is usually the normal minimum for fallout shelters. A halving thickness is the amount of a material that can cut the radiation passing through in half. For example 3-feet of dirt and 2-feet of concrete provide 10 halving thicknesses.

      Learn more here:
      Also see this chart to see a comparison of actual penetrating radiation through various walls:

      If a terrorist nuke were detonated in Israel many people would survive. Ground bursts yield fallout. Air bursts have wider blast zones.

      If a missile is used and it’s detonated above the ground the blast zone will be wider but the fallout will be minimal. So if you’re outside the blast minimal radiation shielding will probably be ok.

      If it’s a ground penetrating missile aimed at a hardened target, or a terrorist nuke trucked to the target, there will be fallout downwind of the blast. In that case get behind as much shielding as possible and stay there for at least 3 days.

      That half life of fallout is measured in hours not years so it drops to safe levels very quickly. Avoid ingesting, hailing, or touching fallout. On your skin it can burn, inside you it may be fatal.

      If you’re curious to see how wide of an area can be affected by a nuke try using this tool: Pick the city, size of weapon, select ground burst and show fallout.

      You might also find this website useful:

      Must be tough times in Israel right now… hang in there! Nuclear war can be survivable.

  13. Ola nordman says:

    Nuclear power isent the problem, no matter how bad the accident is the contamination isent going to be that serious. Chernobyl which was alot worse than fukushima, has killed 50 people in 29 years. And the chance of death gets lower every day. There are no increase in malformed children(this is also true for hiroshima and nagasaki, there are a 70 year ongoing study of the victims)
    And it would be perfectly ok to move back into chernobyl at the moment. But in the events of nuclear war, the shear amount of radioactive dust in the air, would kill anyone who isent living underground for the first two weeks. Comparing nuclear power accidents with nuclear war is dumb, especialy since we need nuclear power more than ever, since solar and wind wount be replacing coal any time soon

    • Doug says:

      You are completely deluding yourself regarding Chernobyl, Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The half-life of the types of radioactive isotopes that are produced in a nuclear plant meltdown last from decades to centuries. The area around Chernobyl won’t be safe to inhabit for generations. They have only recently started allowing large numbers of tourists in – but then only for the day and under supervision. Workers at the plant are carefully monitored and reach their lifetime limit fairly quickly.

      Since the half-life of isotopes created during a nuclear detonation are different, you can re-inhabit the area with no protection within weeks. You can even leave a shelter for brief periods after 3 days. This is why Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been rebuilt and are active cities today.

      As for deaths from all 3, there have been thousands of deaths due to cancer and infant deformities. It doesn’t take much time on the internet to find that information.

  14. MMM says:

    Hello, I wonder how to eastablish a kind of antinuclear protection in my own private house, which is isolated. Please mail me . Many thanks!!!

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Here’s a crash course…

      The key is mass… thick heavy materials like concrete and dirt. These block gamma rays from fallout. See this article on wikipedia:

      You’ll find that 3-feet of dirt will shield you from 1-hour old fallout from a nearby blast – no the blast itself, that depends more on shelter design. But also take a look at the rapid decay rate of fallout. This is the good news. Radiation from fallout disappears quickly, so the shielding doesn’t need to be so robust (thick) if you don’t expect to experience fallout for hours or days after the blast. For example after 7 hours the radiation from fallout has decayed by a factor of ten.

      So, practically speaking, if you build any kind of shelter in your home – even an expedient made form furniture, books, etc on the day of the blast – you are increasing your chance of survival greatly.

      Things to consider if you’re building a simple shelter in your home now:

      1. Think of it as mush as a safe room as anything. Stock it with food, water, and ‘entertainment’ for a couple weeks at the least. Make it comfortable.
      2. Keep it a secret and invisible.
      3. Be sure to have a steady supply of air with inlet/outlets that are hard to spot by people outside. Filters don’t need to be NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) unless you’re expecting chemical warfare. Read Kearny’s book on Nuclear War Survival Skills can show you more about fallout air filtering etc
      4. Know that after 28 days the fallout outside will be at safe levels – making the biggest issue the aftermath of a complete societal breakdown.

      I’m not an expert but have done plenty of research – enough to understand the issues and how to deal with them. I hope this helps.

  15. Zoyoyayep says:

    This is an awesome info and great design you shared. Love this really,,It helps for my university project about Nuclear Fallout Shelter.

  16. Walton McCarthy (@noradshelters) says:

    The information is better than most but like everybody else you miss the starting point.
    First quantify the radiation dose that the shelter is designed for. FEMA does not publish
    these doses but they are available in PRINCIPLES OF PROTECTION

    This book was written with the help of a technical committee with experts from Department of Defense,
    Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Strategic Applications International Corp,
    National Bureau of Standards, National Radiation Laboratory of Illinois at Urbana and others.
    It is the Shelter Design Standards book that the government should have written.
    The POP book is the bible in the industry and tabulates all the weapons effects based on
    distance from ground zero and size of the weapon. You will not find this information
    in any other book.

    I would make a couple of quick corrections. The gamma and neutron radiation will penetrate
    the hatch unless the hatch is 1- 1/8 inch thick steel, which would reduce the radiation dose
    by half. Normally the hatch itself is not considered to provide any radiation shielding.
    The farther away the hatch is from the shelter interior, the more radiation will be attenuated
    or reduced for both neutron and gamma radiation. This can and must be quantified to establish a
    radiation design dose from overhead and a radiation design dose for the entranceway. Most of
    the radiation entering a shelter comes from the entranceway, not overhead.

    Take a look at this table

    Table 13.4 is specific to a 100 KT surface burst. Across the top is the
    distance you are from ground zero. MSD is minimum survival distance.
    There is no survival less than .5 mile from GZ until you have 66 inches
    of earth overhead. The radiation would not kill you at this point, but
    the ground shock would. At less than .5 mi from GZ the blast creates 200 psi
    of overpressure which exceeds the threshold of 40 psi at which level seat belts are required.

    At 0.5 mi from GZ of a 100 KT surface burst, the blast would be about 30 psi.
    Anything less than 49 in. of earth overhead would expose you to a lethal radiation dose.
    With 49.5 to 60.5 inches overhead you would have a 50% chance of radiation poisoning.
    66 inches of earth overhead reduces the total overhead radiation dose to 18. At 71.5
    inches the mass overhead attenuates the radiation to 6 rems. This dose must be added
    to the radiation dose from the entranceway and the radiation dose from the air ducts.
    The total of all three would give you the total rems in the shelter or TRS at a given psi range.

    “US Handbook of NBC Weapon Fundamentals and Shelter Engineering Design
    Standards” shows the actual
    radiation doses from actual nuclear bomb tests. The book creates
    standards to which all nuclear protection shelters should be built. The
    protection goal is to have not more than 25 rems to enter the shelter from all
    three sources based on the Radiation Design dose. So at .5 mi from a 100 KT
    surface burst you would want 72 inches of earth overhead creating an overhead
    dose of 6 rems.

    The committee developed a calculator to tell you your radiation exposure
    based on shelter depth and entranceway design.

    I’ll try to get you more info about the calculator tomorrow. I can’t
    request replies to this comment for some reason so if you’d like to
    discuss you can reach me at email hidden; JavaScript is required

    Just quickly also wanted to share if you are concerned about vandals and desperate
    survivors, you should concern yourself with secrecy and camouflage.
    Solar panels are made of diodes and very vulnerable to EMP. They can be visible
    for miles, thus giving away your location unless the panels are located on a
    nearby house. Solar panels are subject to vandalism and theft. An above ground
    generator is subject to the same risks. We have an internal diesel generator
    but I want to caution anyone thinking of putting a generator inside a shelter
    that our system of air flow took a while to develop and required extensive testing.
    Generators need cooling and combustion air and need very special venting to keep the
    shelterists safe.

    There is a difference between an underground generator and an shelter internal generator. Many shelters on the market have underground generators
    but they are not inside the shelter because they have not addressed the EMP shielding and/or the venting. A shelter internal generator is the only
    way to maintain and service an uncontaminated generator.

    As for materials — concrete always has water in it and requires constant de-humidification.
    Many of the concrete shelters that I have built always had a mold problem which needed
    24 hr/day dehumidification. Steel shelters are dry but subject to natural electrical
    processes creating corrosion. If you consider creating or buying a steel shelter you must
    include an corrosion protection system. We use a system that diverts corrosion away from
    the steel onto sacrificial anodes. Buried steel without protection must be de-rated
    2 to 5 % per year. Consider whether an underground shelter has corroded or weakened
    before using it for protection. The earth falling in on you is lethal too.

    After designing and installing more than 1,472 underground shelters over forty years,
    I feel qualified to say that virtually all of the underground shelters on the market
    do not provide enough protection to be considered safe shelters. They are not based
    on any radiation design dose, have no or poor entranceway geometry shielding and
    therefore have no performance data.

    Thank you,
    Walton McCarthy

    • Michael Janzen says:

      Yes! Especially if the entrance wasn’t in line of sight of where you choose to set up ‘camp’. Other issues/dangers may be present though… bad air (low oxygen, poisonous gasses), structural weakness, and lack of supplies. But in terms of gamma radiation blocking – a cave, tunnel, or mine would be excellent.

  17. G says:

    Interesting!, and this topic doesn’t need to be controversial.

    Firstly, all of us are subject to natural disaster risks of one kind or another. In many cases, shelters that deal with those risks can readily be adapted to deal with the risk of nuclear fallout.

    Second, like it or not, the world is becoming more dangerous: nuclear weapons proliferation to unstable governments (North Korea), and potentially to terrorist groups (ISIL, Al Qaeda), autocratic or extremist governments with glory-seeking leaders, and increasing competition for resources under conditions of climate change and population/consumption overshoot.

    Thus it really does make sense for people to build shelters that can keep them safe from natural disasters and also from the risks of nuclear weapons. More than that, it makes little sense at all to build a home that is fully exposed to natural disaster risks, for example conventional construction in places subject to hurricanes, tornadoes, and so on.

    So here’s another design challenge: Design homes that are safe against expected hazards, but that still embody the good aesthetics and features of conventional construction. Why have a vulnerable house topside, and an uncomfortable shelter underground, when you can have the best of both worlds in one home? The “compromises” needed for that could be relatively minimal compared to the benefits.

  18. Randy Thomas says:

    Your story\plan is fine. You bring out thinking on the subject. Its not about fear, or invoking fear. Its all about surviving the blast, and the first several weeks of the deadlier fallout, radiation. Fear is not the intent, nor should it be the driving factor. As to earthquakes, etc, this was not about them. Its about being prepared to survive nuclear war or Meltdowns. This should cause the leaders to come up with plans for their loved ones and friends. This is not Bay of Pigs era. The North Korean problem could escalate to the point of WW3. The South China Sea standoff could very well go south if either side shoots down another’s war plane or ship. One downed Russian or American fighter jet by the other side could cause a spirally effect. Russia, Iran, North Korea, Assad’s men, China, and their allies could very well unite, and that would bring America, Great Britain and the entire NATO brigade’s war machine into full battle operation. Russia has their best anti aircraft missiles in Syria solely to shoot American jets and Tomahawks out of the sky. Are you fool’s blind? Proxy wars are happening. The major players have announced who they are backing. WW3 has, in essence, already begun. Are you forgetting the pro- Russian nations of south America, or the pro- backers of Iran? Do you not realize why Russia and China have been heavily involved in joint military training and war games? 9\11 allowed for a stronger American military presence in middle east, Poland, south China sea, and around the Koreas. Each nation are beating war drums. China and America each buzzing each others jets. Russia flying at Alaska’s doorstep, and along the entire west coasts doorsteps. Russian submarines popping up everywhere. Sure, America is strong. But that’s not preventing actions now, and it’s too late to reverse WW3. Never you mind smoke screens set to usher in NWO and the complete domination of the rest! The sabre rattling began years ago.prepare for the worst. Of coarse hope for the best! But do prepare.better to be ready, than not to!

  19. e m haines says:

    Ventilation systems need to have 90 degree corners as well and dead end drop collectors for gravity to work somewhat on the dust and not over fill your filters. Heat rises / cold air falls – this principle could be used for ventilation with out electrical power. Two vents at the bottom floor with at least two 90 degree corners in each as well as dead end drop collectors, for cool air to come in. Two vents out the ceiling (at opposite ends of the shelter) to take out hot air w/at least 90 degree corners again and dead end drop dust collectors. I lived during the 1960’s Cuban Nuclear Scare in the deep South and this was the ventilation system we used for our shelter. I’m too old to warrant doing a shelter for myself now, but I’m willing to contribute what I remember. When W.W. III happens I will be on the front porch in my rocking chair. I’ll help others if I can. – Granny

  20. faith says:

    Thank you for your post. My husband and I were already prepping our building site to build an earthbag earth bermed house. With the current political climate it seemed like a good idea to look at what we could do to make it radiation resistant as well as tornado proof. (The only minor worry for our area as in 2 in 50 yrs) we are not near any nuclear plants and are miles from the nearest small town. we may be slightly paranoid but we feel a little paranoia is a good thing. If it leads to practical preparedness. I agree with those above though that if you are in a area that may have a real risk that will need longer then a week then you will want more space if you can afford it. For those who can not though even if they had to go smaller it would be better then nothing in an area with a real risk. Nuclear Plants are a wonderful energy tool and are 100 times safer then coal or oil or natural gas. As a world we need to transition to solar, wind, hydro and Nuclear if we wish to continue to have a livable environment. However we must make sure that Nuclear Plants are in areas that are mainly safe from earthquakes, tornados and other big natural disasters. So I thank you for the information and the reassurance that the design we are planning should be sufficient.

  21. vishwajeet kumar pandey says:

    Thanks sir
    this blog will help me for my final year project ,but i want more information about fallout shelter .

  22. Peter Munro says:

    Your site is about building tiny houses. When people build a house it should be able to provide protection from radiation after the first 30 days. This should include mineral oil fillable windows etc. The fallout shelter is just a small space that is best protected. After 30 days you will want to look out of a window. This can easily be done by choosing the most appropriate building materials.

    People should also consider putting their lawn and house in a greenhouse. A greenhouse will keep the fallout off the ground and allow for the growing of radioactive free food.

    I am a Health and Radiation Physicist, with a minor in Nuclear Reactor Design. I have been an assistant operator at a Nuclear Reactor. I have also won awards for developing solar energy projects. I have 2 electric cars. I also have KI in the refrigerator, and access to a community with a 10,000 square foot nuclear fallout shelter.

  23. WolfBrother says:

    Not an expert. Was part of the medical part of a NBC (now CBRN) team while an active duty Medic.

    There is a 7/10 rule concerning radiation decay levels. Do an internet search for 7/10 rule and you’ll find a goodly amount of info. My opinion – you would be very wise to look it up and verify what I’m saying below.

    Once radiation (fallout) reaches peak, the 7/10 rule applys.
    Example Peak Radiation (using old school units- Rads) – 1000R
    7 hours later – 100R
    7 sets of 7 hours later (49 hours) – 10R
    7 sets of 49 hours later (343 hours) – 1 R
    7 sets of 343 hours later (2401 hours — 100 days) – .1R – safe for coming out – Females of child bearing age and children should still sleep in shelter for several more months. Outside play areas for children should be decontaminated prior to their being allowed out. All their vital organs are closer to the ground, so impact can be greater.

    Peak Radiation – 500R 7/10 rule puts .1 @ 85 days

    Peak Radiation – 3000R 7/10 rule puts .1 – 2100 days

    look up 7/10 rule. The initial time measurement is in hours. After 7 hours peak radiation is 1/10 of what it was. ALL REMAINING TIME UNITS are 7 groups of total prior measurement.
    Time starts PEAK – 100% of max radiation exposure
    7 units of 1 hour – total 7 – 1/10th of peak radiation
    7 units of 7 hours – total 49 – 1/10th of prior calculated radiation level
    7 units of 49 hours – total 343 hours – 1/10th of prior calculated radiation level
    7 units of 343 hours – total 2401 hours – 1/10th of prior calculated radiation level
    7 units of 2401 hours – total 16807 – 1/10th of prior calculated radiation level

  24. Dale says:

    I’m very interested in an affordable fall out shelter,but I need it in paper print,how could I obtain this…..thank you..##

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