Doomsday shelters are not a modern invention. Burrowing underground to hide from danger is an animal instinct, and humans have been constructing their own versions of underground safe houses since the 1800s. However, it wasn’t until the Cold War made an all-out nuclear catastrophe seem horrifyingly imminent that bunkers really took off, and nowhere more so than in Switzerland.
The Swiss government mandated that every building constructed after 1960 had to have a nuclear bunker underground, and it’s still a legal requirement, despite the efforts of some politicians. Other countries such as Finland, Austria and South Korea have followed suit with less stringent requirements for underground shelters – but for the rest of the world, it’s largely up to individuals to decide whether to splash out.
Of course that hasn’t stopped eager entrepreneurs springing up to fill a gap in the market, and many are offering highly customisable options for the discerning survivalist – think Build-A-Bear for nuclear bunkers.
Definitions of what actually constitutes a bunker vary widely, but there are common themes. They must be underground and made of sturdy material such as concrete. They also anticipate extended stays with storage units for food and clothes, as well as having indoor lighting and air filtration systems in case whatever has prompted the decision to seek shelter has also poisoned the air outside.
There are firms that will design and install a bunker in your back yard, built to fit all of your requirements and needs, such as a bullet-resistant security door, a hidden vault room or an escape hatch. And, of course, you can order online for your convenience. Most prominent firms such as Rising S Bunkers, a Texas-based company, will ship around the world.
It all sounds so simple, but safety from impending nuclear fallout comes with a price. Most models start around $40,000, and depending on the sophistication you’re looking for, can increase to as much as $9m. For all those worrying about that little spat taking place in East Asia, it’s not exactly an impulse purchase. Many take days to assemble and build, in addition to extensive consultations before the final product is even created in order to have the shelter crafted to suit your needs.
It’s not just the fear of nuclear war that drives demand for bunkers. American companies such as Rising S Bunkers tend to lean towards the more survivalist side and refer to “living off the grid”, while others, like Japanese company Shelter-No1, refer to natural disasters and widespread terrorist attacks as reasons to invest.
But while some private bunker companies have been in operation for years, most saw a spike in demand in April when tensions between Japan and North Korea began mounting again. Ron Hubbard, head of Atlas Survival Shelters, told the Telegraph in May that calls to his company had tripled on a daily basis. In Japan Nobuku Oribe, the director of shelter company Oribe Seiki Seisakusho, which was founded by her grandfather after the Cuban Missile crisis, told the Guardian that they had sold twice as many shelters in April and May this year as they did in 2016.
So, what can you expect if you decide to take the plunge and invest in somewhere to hide from impending immolation?
Some companies will only provide the details of their bunkers if you’re a serious client who can prove they have the money to spend. Not so for Rising S Bunkers, which has worked with both the military and civilians. It has a catalogue on its website, which details all the models of bunker available, affectionately given names such as “The Commander” and “The Pioneer”. They start at a very basic 8’ x 12’ mini bunker, which goes for $39,500, all the way up to a luxury bunker, known as “The Aristocrat”, priced at $8,350,000. The more you’re willing to pay, the better your conditions will be.
A standard bunker, such as the 10’ x 30’ upgrade model, retails for around $76,000 and features a bulletproof door, rooms with bunk beds and an open plan kitchen and attached bathroom.
For a more mid-range model there’s the 20’ x 50’ double wide in the “Admiral Series”, which features two “jack knife” sofas, a dining table, a 12 Volt TV/DVD combo, as well as an open plan kitchen, and bedrooms “with endless possibilities for furniture arrangement”.
Then there’s the very top end. The most intricate bolt hole on offer from Rising S Bunkers, “The Aristocrat”, costs more than $8m and is designed to house 44 people. It offers all the comforts of modern living combined with apocalypse readiness. Models can feature a swimming pool, hot tub, walk-in closets, a firing range and a greenhouse equipped with with LED lights and auto irrigation.
The price tags may be preposterous, and the interiors for the most part a little cramped. But given the state of geopolitics in 2017, it’s perhaps not too surprising that the market for nuclear bunkers is – to use an uncomfortable phrase for anyone anticipating a nuclear strike – booming.