Posted : 2013-04-07 17:10
Updated : 2013-04-07 17:10

Fallout shelter or wine cellar

By Nam Sang-so

A plump young man wearing a black comrade suit was surrounded by several army generals heavily decorated with large insignias on their shoulders and chests.

The young man with a short side hair cut, his forefinger pointing at the center of a relief map showing the topography of Seoul City, gave instructions to the ramrod generals who flatteringly nodded as one man.

Japan's NHK television didn't release the audio of what these people were saying but interpreted that it was a recent military strategic meeting held in Pyongyang, and the young man wanted to hit the center of Seoul with missiles.

NHK was modest enough to keep silent on if it meant a nuclear weapon. The only weapon that can "wipe out" Seoul is a nuclear weapon and the North keeps saying they would use such on the South, Japan or the United States.

Since no one on earth can tell if the North will really carry out their threats or, if so when, we can only rely on Murphy's Law ― "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." I'm inclined to believe this epigram but oddly I don't hear that a thousand fortune tellers in Seoul are digging fallout shelters or moving out of the city.

During the cold war era, many countries built fallout shelters and I still remember that the subway in Seoul had to be dug quickly so that it could also be used as an underground air raid shelter. Three yellow triangle in a black circle marked "fallout shelters" and were seen in major cities in the United States and in many other countries, including Seoul. After the Soviet's fall, the shelter signs disappeared and many shelters become wine cellars.

A fallout shelter is an enclosed space specially designed to protect its occupants from radioactive debris or fallout resulting from a nuclear explosion. During a nuclear explosion, matter vaporized in the resulting fireball is exposed to neutrons from the explosion and becomes radioactive. The fallout emits alpha and beta particles, as well as gamma rays. Much of this highly radioactive material then falls to the ground, subjecting anything within the line of sight to radiation, a significant hazard.

I'm not a nuclear student but as an architectural designer I've had minor drawing experience in fallout shelters for military use, and as a consultant, at a time many years ago, to the Foreign Affairs Department of Swiss Confederation, had the chance to know about the construction and maintenance of nuclear fallout shelters built in Switzerland.

There were some 300,000 shelters providing enough protection for all Swiss residents as well as visitors. The Swiss government once made a film to introduce their fallout shelter constructions to Korean military officers in Seoul and I was invited. "Every inhabitant must have a protected place that can be reached quickly and apartment block owners are required to construct and fit out shelters in all new dwellings," stipulates the Swiss Federal Law on Civil Protection.

What we have here is vaguely sentenced guidelines, in Korean, asking for citizens to listen to the radio, carry extra batteries, store canned foods, follow the instructions of Civil Defense employees, etc, all of which are little help. Advising to take refuge in basements or subway stations won't help save citizen's lives, either.

If you would call the Swiss on the other side of the world paranoid or obsessed about nuclear fallout, what would you call the politicians on the south of the DMZ?- ignorant, negligent or cowardly?

The writer is a retired architect/project analyst who spent several years in the Middle East and Africa. His email address is

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