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Last Updated: April 10th, 2014

Mini Blast & Fallout Shelter

By Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine

Although many civil defense blast & fallout shelters have been built, most people have not made the substantial commitments of money and time required to provide proper civil defense blast & fallout shelters for their families. Those who have the book Nuclear War Survival Skills (Available here.) could construct some expedient protection. People need cheap nuclear radiation emergency shelters.

Expedient blast & fallout shelters are, however, perishable. They are constructed of materials, including wood, which would be generally available in an emergency. Most fallout shelters of this type become unsafe for occupancy within a few months after construction. Also, expedient blast & fallout shelters require significant time for construction and therefore might not be available in a very rapidly developing crisis.

In addition to our standardized designs, there are numerous "do-it-yourself" solutions that can provide protection on a permanent basis, but most people are deterred from undertaking such projects which may require substantial skill.

We have been experimenting with a protective fallout shelter that would provide worthwhile protection on a permanent basis at low cost and with a minimum in comfort and habitability.

This basic fallout shelter was originally designed by volunteers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, so in a pending crisis many people could take the simple plans for the fallout shelter to a local steel fabricator and have it quickly and cheaply built.

This fallout shelter was constructed by a local steel fabricator entirely of new materials and coated with asphalt for burial for a price of $900. This included about $300 for materials (primarily steel) and about $600 for labor (primarily welding) and shop expenses and profit. (1990 pricing, 2003 about $1,500.00, today ?)

It can be buried in a small space by an average family with shovels during their spare time. This would require about the same amount of digging as does a comparable expedient shelter. If your family does not want to dig the hole, a small backhoe can do the job in less than an hour. The shelter weighs about 1000 pounds, so a vehicle might be needed to drag it into place, although several people can roll and slide it without difficulty.

This fallout shelter would afford fairly good nuclear protection for a cost of about $150 per person. The shelter stay would be very unpleasant, but brief, and the occupants would likely survive. It is not at all comparable to a proper civil defense fallout shelter, but it could save the lives of many Americans in a nuclear emergency.

It does not have air filters for removal of chemical or biological agents. If a fallout shelter of this type is equipped with the smallest Swiss shelter ventilation system which includes blast valves, blower, dust filter, and chemical and biological air filters, then the cost rises to about $400 per person. This would keep the cost per person at a low level for groups of 10 to 15 occupants by placing them in a very small, uncomfortable shelter room. It is preferable to build a proper shelter for larger numbers of people if this amount of money per person is available.

The fallout shelter room is a cylinder 46 inches in diameter and 12 feet long, which is fabricated from two 6 by 12-foot sheets of 10-gauge cold-rolled steel. The ends of the cylinder are closed by flat plates of the same steel. Six inches from each end, cylinders 24 inches in diameter and 3 feet long are attached at ninety degree angles to the shelter room to form two entryways and ventIlation ducts. All seams are welded completely, and the assembled structure is sprayed with an asphalt coating. An attachment bracket is provided on one outer end for a protective anode for further corrosion protection.

The family should paint the inside of their shelter with primer and then gloss white paint. This requires about one-half gallon per coat. Arrange a household fan to suck air out of one entryway and then paint while backing away from that end. In this way I painted our test shelter without danger from paint fumes.

A similar structure could be built from corrugated and galvanized pipe, but it would be much more expensive to fabricate in a water-tight configuration unless mass-produced with proper tooling. In the case of large scale manufacture, corrugated and galvanized construction would be preferable.

The fallout shelter doors consist of two circular 1/4-inch steel plates 25 1/2 inches in diameter. Each plate has a rolled rim made from a 1/4 inch thick steel strip 2 inches wide and 80 inches long. This rim must be welded to the plate inside and out. These caps, when properly installed and used, provide simple blast doors and valves suitable for blast overpressures up to 50 psi.

Two small steel loops are welded to the inner surface of each door 6 inches in from the rim to serve as hinge supports. Four similar loops are welded at 90 degree positions and two inches down inside each of the 25 l/2-inch entryways. These are positioned at 45 degree angles to the longitudinal axis of the shelter room. The four loops permit water bottles to be raised into the entryways for additional radiation protection.

Nuclear Fallout Shelter
Corrugated & Galvanized Mini Blast & Fallout Shelter

Nuclear Fallout Shelter
Transport it easily via pick-up truck or boat trailer.

Nuclear Fallout Shelter
Placing the shelter in the hole with a forklift or backhoe.

The fallout shelter is buried with three feet of earth over the top of the shelter room and the 25 1/2 inch entryways extending two inches above the ground surface to avoid rain run-off into the shelter. Then a 6-inch by 6-inch concrete collar is poured in a trough in the earth around the entryway such that the rim of the door rests on the concrete and the door is about 1/2 inch above the entryway rim when closed. This collar transfers blast load from the door to the soil and helps prevent crushing of the entryway pipe. The shelter should be located as far as is convenient away from burnable structures and on the side toward any expected nuclear targets so that the buildings will fall away from the shelter .

Nuclear Fallout Shelter
After laying in a foot of stone on the bottom, a little more is added
halfway up the sides to fill in under the pipe while aiding in drainage.

Finally, a protective ring of concrete or logs (such as railroad ties) is positioned around and above the closed door such that the door IS recessed by about 6 inches. A berm of earth is Elaced around this ring. The "blast protector logs" described in Nuclear War Survival Skills are suitable for this, or the family may wish to make this structure with concrete. If concrete is used, a suitable drainage hole must be provided to prevent accumulation of rainwater in the ring with consequent leakage into the shelter.

Close to each end of the bottom of the fallout shelter room, a 1 inch threaded hole is provided with threaded plugs which may be removed from inside. During burial, a few Inches of gravel is placed in a recess under and around these holes. They permit drainage if water should leak into or be spilled in the shelter. A narrow floorboard may be placed loosely on the shelter bottom in order to keep the occupants dry if moisture is draining down the bottom.

Theoretically, this fallout shelter has a fallout protection factor of about 10,000, an initial nuclear radiation protection factor of about 1,000, and a blast protection capability of about 50 psi. These are sufficient for most American locations even in a large-scale nuclear war. In use, given the uncertainties inherent in these severe conditions, it might degrade to a fallout protection factor of 1000 and blast protection of 25 psi which is still quIte good. This shelter offers its occupants a good chance of survival of airburst explosions of most currently deployed nuclear weapons from a horizontal distance of one to two miles, and it offers good protection from radioactive fallout.

Unlike those in a proper fallout shelter, in case of a near airburst approximately directly overhead the occupants of this shelter would be killed by initial nuclear radiation. If the explosion were off toward the horizon, then the initial nuclear radiation protection factor would be operable.

In use, the fallout shelter must be equipped with 15 one-gallon containers filled with water for each shelter occupant. A few of these should have handles, because, after the shelter is occupied, they are to be drawn up into the entryways with cords placed through the four steel loops. The entryways are thereby partially filled with water for additional radiation protection.

Expedient ventilation equipment as described in Nuclear War Survival Skills must be provided. This can be a small Keamy air pump mounted in the rectangular opening of a cylindrical wooden frame built into the room, or simple expedient fans. The doors are propped open about 6 inches during shelter occupancy to allow expedient ventilation.

If the direction of an anticipated blast threat is known, then the doors are opened away from this threat. They may be propped open with small sticks. These sticks would be crushed and the doors slammed shut by a blast wave. The door is attached to the entryways by at least one chain connected to its inner loops to serve as a hinge. If the blast wave approaches from the open side, it might tear the door off. The blast protector ridge shields the door assembly from flying objects.

An alternate procedure is to prop the doors open with long sticks that extend to the bottom of the shelter. A shelter occupant is assigned to each stick. When the reflected light from outside indicates that a nuclear explosion has taken place, the occupant moves the stick and allows the door to fall shut. The door is then reopened when the blast wave has passed. The negative pressure wave may already have opened it, but this wave is not life- threatening. With rings welded to the bottom of the shelter under the doors, one might even arrange to bind the doors down with a load binder and chain before the blast wave arrives.

The fallout shelter equipment must include heavy plastic sheeting and the other supplies and tools required to build tents over the doors as is described for expedient shelters in Nuclear War Survival Skills. These reduce the amount of fallout which may drift into the entryways. Spare supplies should be stocked to replace the tents if they are carried away by blast winds or other causes.

Plastic bags for waste disposal (you throw them out the doors after use ), a homemade Kearny fallout meter, several flashlights with spare batteries (you will be able to see during the daytime by reflected outside light), and a copy of Nuclear War Survival Skills complete the shelter equipment. Store the radiation meter in a sealed bottle with drying agent as described in Nuclear War Survival Skills. (NWSS book and other radiation detection instruments and supplies are available here.)

If this design does not appeal to your desire for a "high-tech" life-saving device, remember that a few days inside this pipe with your family and only water to drink (no food is recommended) is going to be very low-tech indeed. However, even if the quality of life is very low for a few days, you will probably survive the very horrible fate that awaits the unprotected victims of nuclear explosions. Remember, 90% of the radiation from fallout is gone in seven hours, and 99% of it is gone in 48 hours. Most can put up with cramped survival for 2-3 days, while the worst of it subsides, compared to the alternative.

There are many impediments to the installation of a proper family civil defense fallout and blast shelter - cost, motivation, distractions, fear, etc. We all have many things to do in life besides preparing fancy holes underground. Nevertheless, should the worst actually happen, you do not want to have the experience of realizing that your inaction has just condemned your family to unnecessary harm.

Nuclear Fallout Shelter

This fallout and blast shelter provides minimum nuclear survival requirements with high (but survivable) discomfort for an exceptionally low price in money and time. It is designed to lower the threshold of inaction for those knowledgeable people who have not yet obtained nuclear age insurance for themselves and those for whom they are responsible. If you subsequently acquire a proper shelter, this small unit will make an excellent storage place and also a backup shelter for other people whom you may decide to help.

There are thousands of metal fabricators throughout the United States who can manufacture this fallout and blast shelter for less than $3,500. It is, therefore, not necessary to pay shipping costs from a distant location. If you want one of these shelters, we suggest that you have it fabricated nearby. Remember, the essence of this device is low cost and simplicity. If you add freight costs and also start making improvements in shelter habitability, your expenses may become a significant fraction of those required for a proper blast and fallout shelter, which would be much more protective and a far more desirable alternative to this design.

Completed, ready-to-bury, corrugated steel Mini Blast & Fallout Shelters, photo's above, are available here for $3,400.00
or write us at or call (830) 672-8734 anytime.

Be sure to also see/read the comprehensive Nuclear Blast & Fallout Shelters FAQ for lots more DIY free fallout shelter plans & ready made shelter sources!

KI4U, Inc. is the only private radiological laboratory in the nation that specializes in calibrating and certifying all of our country's Civil Defense radiation meters
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