Afraid of Kim’s nukes? Build a bunker, says South Korean teacher

Lee says his shelter could protect him from a nuclear disaster and withstand a direct hit from a conventional missile

Anthony Wallace

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If North Korea launches a nuclear attack on the South, architecture professor Lee Tae-goo has a plan: He will retreat to his purpose-built bunker and remain underground for at least two weeks to avoid poisoning. to radiation.

With thick concrete walls, steel-reinforced doors and an air purification system, Lee says his shelter, buried under one meter (three feet) of earth, could protect him from a nuclear disaster and withstand to a direct hit from a conventional missile.

Built on his property in the town of Jecheon about 120 kilometers southeast of the capital Seoul, the government-funded bunker is part of a campaign by Lee to get South Koreans to take preparations for the war more seriously. nuclear fallout.

“Only 100 kilometers from here we have North Korea, from which biological or nuclear missiles could fly,” Lee told AFP.

He said he was also extremely concerned about a Fukushima-style meltdown at one of South Korea’s aging nuclear reactors.

“South Koreans haven’t been forced to build personal shelters for ages. There is a lack of public shelters and in many cases they are far away,” he added.

South Korea has a ‘first-class shelter system for the military’, says Lee, but ‘the civilian side is far behind’

Anthony Wallace

Since the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, Seoul has technically remained at war with Pyongyang, and the two sides have regularly accused each other of “provocations” that could tip them over the edge. an open conflict.

Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test in 2006, and leader Kim Jong Un recently stepped up work on weapons programs banned by the UN, including staging drills he said simulated the shower of South Korea with tactical nuclear weapons.

Although the Seoul military maintains what it calls “maximum readiness” for an attack, Lee said most civilians have forgotten about the war and are unprepared.

South Korea has a network of more than 17,000 bomb shelters nationwide, according to Interior Ministry data, including more than 3,000 in Seoul.

Lee says most South Korean civilians unprepared for attack

Anthony Wallace

The city’s subway stations also double as public air-raid shelters, but they are not nuclear-proof.

In the 1970s, the country had a law requiring buildings over a certain height in major cities to have a basement, which would serve as a bunker in times of war.

But in Seoul, due to soaring real estate prices, most private buildings have converted those basements into parking lots or the damp underground apartments made famous by the Oscar-winning movie “Parasite.”

This worries Lee, a mild-mannered professor at Semyung University.

South Korea has a “first-class shelter system for the military”, he said, but “the civilian side is far behind”.

Lee’s “model” bunker cost around 70 million won ($48,000) – excluding labor costs – to build, which was covered by an Education Ministry research grant he asked and won.

He said he hoped it would inspire others to follow his lead, adding that he had received numerous inquiries about his plan, including from South Air Force officials. Korea, who inspected his bunker earlier this year.

For residents of high-rise urban buildings, Lee recommends redesigning basement parking lots to serve as bunkers, and says the government should make subway tunnels nuclear-proof.

Lee says people who build nuclear-proof bunkers prefer to keep them secret

Anthony Wallace

Although many South Koreans have become desensitized to the constant threats from Pyongyang, there are signs that more and more citizens like Lee are taking matters into their own hands.

A local company, Chumdan Bunker System, began selling nuclear-proof bunkers at a Seoul showroom in 2017, the year Kim conducted his last nuclear test.

Chumdan’s website advertises “an underground bunker capable of withstanding nuclear blasts, radiation, and chemical agents.”

But the company told AFP that while it was seeing growing interest in its products, that had yet to translate into sales growth.

“There has been an increase in online traffic to our site but the number of actual orders remains the same,” a Chamdan employee told AFP.

Lee said people who build nuclear-proof bunkers prefer to keep them secret, fearing they’ll be inundated with requests from friends, family and neighbors for shelter in an emergency.

Lee says he hopes to inspire others to build their own bunkers

Anthony Wallace

“Even when I built this bunker, all these people were telling me they would come if the country was attacked. But this place can only accommodate 12 people,” he said.

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