SAN JOSE — For a mere $3,950, L. B. Smith will sell you a bare-bones bunker to protect against nuclear holocaust. He's had no takers, and one critic warns the shelter might "fold up like a banana" if bombs start falling.
Smith, 35, argues his little ball-shaped chamber is "plenty strong. . . . It's not the best design, obviously, but it is economical and it'll work."
"A nuclear war is probably going to start at 3 a.m. when everybody's asleep," Smith said recently. "There's no way for people to get up, jump in their cars and get out of town. With the shelter, you run into the backyard, open the hatch and jump in. At least you have a fighting chance of surviving."
"They'd better put a waiver in saying there's no guarantee," said Jim Garry, who built concrete shelters in the San Francisco Bay Area two decades ago. "Unless they encase it in concrete, whoever uses it will cook inside it like a microwave oven."
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," responded Smith, who says he holds a degree in physics.
Smith and partner Robert Carel say the shelter gets its strength from quarter-inch-thick steel with welded seams. The shelter resembles a chemical beaker, with the neck providing access to the five-foot-diameter, two-person, ball-shaped shelter when the whole thing is buried underground.
Smith says shelters from 2-year-old Underground Shelters International will protect you from a one-megaton blast less than a mile away. He says a two-inch layer of foam insulation between the shelter and the ground would protect against heat and the ground would protect against radiation.
Russell Clanahan, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, says people should be prepared to remain underground for a week or two--longer than the basic air and electricity supply available for the estimated $5,000 for a complete shelter.
"Fallout attenuates at a predictable rate; every seven hours the level of radiation goes down about 9%," Clanahan said. "So there is a mathematically computable factor there in most cases after seven days, and in some cases up to 14 days. It doesn't sound like what they have."
But Smith says additional batteries and oxygen can been taken aboard to get you through any reasonable length of time underground.
Water Supply Vital
"You can probably live without any food at all for a week, as long as you remember water," he said. No toilet facilities are provided.
Garry, who hasn't built a shelter in 15 years, has doubts about strength.