Seen here in original construction in ~ 1960, and described as among the strongest structures ever built by man, Atlas missile silos are being repurposed as prepper retreats.
A converted former Atlas missile silo in Kansas, now revived as a series of one and two million dollar survival retreats, has quickly sold out, and the developer has taken out options on several more.
This article tells more about the concept, and the developer’s own website seems to confirm the project to be fully sold.
The good news, as the developer’s site says, is that people who buy into the project are already getting a share of the silo which, it is claimed, represents a $60 million improvement right from the get go (this is the estimated present day cost of recreating the silo). What’s another million or two when you’re already getting a generous share of a $60 million silo ‘for free’?
We’ll observe our own suggested Code of Prepper Politeness and start off by saying that for some Level 1/2 scenarios, this would be an excellent temporary retreat. And with the silo stocking five years of dried food supplies, it would seem that it should be capable of providing a temporary oasis of comfort and safety for a reasonable period of time – more than long enough for most Level 2 scenarios.
In addition to generator power, the silo also has an up to 150 kW wind turbine, and in addition to stored dry food, it also has a hydroponic system for growing plants/vegetables and raising fish. Pretty cool, huh?
Maybe so. But we’re not entirely sure we’d want to spend up to five years inside a nuclear missile silo, as far as 200 ft under the ground, without seeing sky or sun, and without breathing fresh air. Now quite possibly the residents would be free to go to the surface whenever they liked, but at the end of the day, you’re back inside your subterranean refuge.
More to the point, while a nuclear blast resisting missile silo is a great place to store a missile prior to its launch in a doomsday Armageddon type conflict, we’re not so sure it is the best place to house a community of people during an extended Level 2 or 3 scenario. What is good for missiles is not necessarily good for people – what we’re saying is that perhaps the $60 million cost isn’t quite the same as $60 million of actual value.
We see problems associated with three main areas of living in a silo in response to a Level 2/3 situation.
The first problem is that the silo is an energy intensive retreat. Almost everything requires energy to operate – you don’t even get any ‘free’ natural light or fresh air.
On the plus side, it probably doesn’t require a great deal of heating or cooling – its underground compact design is very thermally efficient, but it needs nonstop energy to power fans and air filtration units to keep an airflow through the silo and to regulate the temperature and humidity. If it gets a bit stuffy in the middle of the night, you can’t just open a window to let some fresh air in.
Now let’s think about that lovely wind turbine/generator. The problem with wind powered generators is they are somewhat maintenance intensive – if you ever drive past a wind generator farm, have a look and see how many of the windmills are actually turning, compared to how many are idle. In our experience, usually about 20% of the units are out of service at any random time.
Maintenance is not so much a problem when you simply phone up the turbine supplier, and they courier the spare parts to you the next day. But in a Level 2 scenario, that’s not an option. You’d need to have a huge inventory of spares for the wind turbine. Not that this is impossible, of course, but it is a reminder that wind power is far from free – indeed, in truth, it is one of the most expensive sources of energy there is.
Due to the propensity of a wind turbine to fail, we’d think it vastly preferable to have two 75 kW generators, or three 50 kW generators. That way, the occasional failure of one unit doesn’t zero out the total power generation capability. Back down in the silo, there’s a tremendous difference between being able to leave half the lights on, and being completely in the dark! (Of course these are not the choices, due to the presence of diesel generators too, but you get our point, we’re sure.)
The other problem with wind power is that it is unpredictable, and when it does come, it is generally only during the day time (winds die down at night, other than in storm conditions). The generators have a minimum speed necessary to get their blades turning at all, and a maximum speed above which they run the risk of damage – it is only when in the ‘sweet spot’ between these two limits that they generate power – in this case, up to a maximum of 150 kW, but often much less.
The wind turbine also looks terribly vulnerable. Don’t they have tornadoes in Kansas? What happens if a tornado destroys it? Or just simply strong winds? Or vandals.
If you’re building a worst case survival retreat, and investing millions of dollars in it, you don’t want to have a cornerstone of your survivability a ‘cross your fingers and hope’ strategy that your windmill won’t be taken out by a passing tornado.
So while the wind turbine/generator can help share the load when it is working, something else is needed for the times when it is off-line, under repair, or when there is no wind.
There are also some solar cells, but we’re not told how many, and these would not be capable of generating anything like 150 kW of power. Kansas is mainly in the Zone 4 solar area (an average of about 4.5 effective hours of sunlight a day), and solar, just like wind power, works best in the day, and not at all at night.
We like solar cells. No moving parts, little to maintain, and a long life. Indeed, if it were our development, we’d probably spend more on solar cell arrays and less on the wind turbine. But even the best solar cell is useless when it is dark (or snowing).
Which brings us to the need for diesel generators, which they acknowledge. It seems, from the information on their website, that each of the residential units uses all-electric appliances, and plenty of them. How much power consumption should be planned for, and how many gallons of diesel a day will this require? We don’t know the answer to that question, but our guess is the short answer is ‘a lot’ and we wonder if the complex is laying in enough diesel. What is the use of all the other facilities they are setting up – hydroponics, aquaculture, and tons of dried food if you’ve got no electricity, rendering your silo uninhabitable?
Now let’s talk about the hydroponics and aquaculture. This is a bit out of our depth, so we’ll just raise concerns rather than make definite statements. In our experience, there’s a huge secret ingredient in any sort of hydroponics/aquaculture undertaking (and we’re not talking about water or nutrients and food). We’re talking sunlight. The concept of ‘getting something for nothing’ when growing any sort of vegetative life form only makes sense if you ignore the huge input into the growing process that comes from the sun’s energy.
This is what makes greenhouses effective. But the hydroponics in this silo aren’t under the open sun. They’re probably down in the bottom of the silo. What replaces the sun’s energy? Probably grow lamps, right? And what powers the grow lamps? Yes, electricity. Complete the cycle – where does the electricity come from? The windmill if you’re lucky, and the diesel generator if you’re not.
So rather than being ‘free’ and something for nothing, the food harvested from the hydroponics actually has a massive energy cost associated with it. As a quick and fun calculation, the sun’s energy is generally about 1 kW per square meter (a bit bigger than a square yard – about 10 sq ft) on a clear day. Considering Kansas has about 4.5 hour equivalents of sun a day, that means a need for about 4.5 kWhrs per sq m or shall we say 500 Whrs per square food of hydroponic space per day. So in a year, each sq ft of hydroponics requires 182 kWhrs of energy.
We’re going to assume a very energy efficient grow lamp of about 10% efficiency. So now we are up to 1.82 MWhrs of electricity per sq ft of hydroponics. Allow for some power line transmission loss, and lets call that a nice even 2 MWhrs per sq ft of garden.
Diesel fuel generates 10 kWhrs per gallon, so to provide the necessary energy for a sq ft of hydroponics would require 200 gallons of diesel a year (worst case scenario assuming none of the energy comes from solar or wind power).
If we say each person has 50 sq ft of garden, then that represents 10,000 gallons of diesel per each person’s garden, each year. Still think those fancy hydroponic things are something for nothing?
Okay, maybe we are overstating things. But reduce this by ten fold, and you’re still looking at 1,000 gallons of diesel or other energy equivalent for the hydroponics just to replace the natural sunlight – energy that would be largely unnecessary for above ground agriculture.
As for the aquaculture, that sounds really neat, doesn’t it, because we all think of fish as something that just magically appears at the end of our fishing lines in rivers and lakes.
But if they are to be farmed, indoors, they need lots of food and also, again, energy for artificial sunlight of sorts. The thing about raising any sort of animal or fish is that you get massively less net food per unit of input food and energy than you do if just growing plants. That is okay on an outdoor river or lake, because the fish get their food from other sources in the lake/river which we don’t need to get involved with, but in a closed indoor system, aquaculture is a massively less efficient way of getting food than just growing plants. To put it another way, there would be perhaps ten times more nutrition if the residents of the silo just ate the fish food directly than if it was fed to fish and then the fish subsequently eaten.
So hydroponics and aquaculture sounds great, but in reality, they are far from appropriate in a situation where energy is in very short supply and very expensive.
The third concern we have might seem counter intuitive. It is a concern about security. You might say ‘What’s the problem; they’re living inside a structure that can withstand a nearly direct hit from an atomic bomb!?’. And you’d be right. But that’s not the threat they are most likely going to need to defend against.
Their threat instead will be organized or disorganized roving hordes of looters and pillagers, and people desperate to get their next meal.
Now, sure, the residents could presumably hunker down inside their silo, and pull the massive door closed behind them and lock it. You know that no-one is going to get in through that door.
But the bad guys don’t need to open the door. They can simply get you to open the door for them. What happens if they start pumping water into the air intakes. It will take time, but in a day/week/month, the water level will have risen so far that not only are the support systems on the lowest levels all now inoperable due to water damage, but the living quarters are getting successively flooded too. Indeed, as soon as the generators and other life support gear on the bottom level fail, the entire silo becomes a death trap rather than a haven.
If the bad guys are more impatient, they could pour gasoline into the inlets instead. Then drop a match or two. Or, heck, why pour anything into the inlets. Why not just block them off and wait for the air inside the silo to run out. Those diesel generators suck in air at an appalling rate – the silo will be out of air (or power – or both) within five minutes.
The silo is not a defendable structure against active attack. It is a passive place to hide inside and cower within, but it is not a fighting fortress that projects power and safety over the lands around it. The underground silo does not provide protective cover for a team of defenders to repel attackers. As such it is vulnerable to the lowest tech sort of attack of all – a passive siege where the bad guys simply wait for you to come out – and probably speed up your decision to do so by interfering with your environment within the silo.
A Silo Protects Against An Irrelevant Risk
In reality, there is only one scenario where you need to be inside a nuclear bomb-proof refuge, and that is immediately prior to a nuclear bomb being set off close to you.
But how likely is that to be the case? Figure on – absolute utter maximum best case scenario – having maybe 15 – 20 minutes warning of an incoming ICBM strike. The total time from launch initiation to detonation is typically 25 – 30 minutes – by the time a launch has been detected, trajectory/target confirmed, and the chain of command has decided what/how to respond, and whether to advise the public, most of those 30 minutes will have already gone.
Will you be able to – within that shortest of times – stop what you’re doing, round up family members (some may be at school, some at the office, some at the shops) and then all of you somehow magically get from where you were to the open fields of central Kansas (not far from Salina), into the silo, and the door shut behind you (and all the other families too) prior to the bomb going off overhead?
Even if your family is on an ‘every man for himself’ system where each of you have to make your own way to the silo in an emergency, would you, yourself, with no other delays be able to get there in, say, 10 minutes? Only if your normal residence, school, office, shopping center, etc, are all within five miles of the silo.
In other words, when responding to the one risk the silo is uniquely well qualified to protect you against – a nuclear attack – it would actually be useless, because (assuming you’re not always within five miles of the silo normally) there’s no way in the world you’ll get to the silo before the bombs go off all around you.
Level 2 But Not Level 3 Protection
Don’t get us wrong. There is plenty to like about the silo, especially if you live close to it to start with (who lives close to Salina, Kansas, though!).
If you ignore its defensive weakness, and if you accept at face value the claims that it has enough food and water and energy for up to five years (depends, we guess, on energy consumption rates, how much energy can be provided by the solar and wind power, and the number of people who make it to the silo), then – all going well – $1 million buys three people five years of comfortable Level 2 survival, or five people get three years (there is 15 man years of food included per $1 million unit).
But what happens when the last drop of diesel is burned, when the wind turbine can’t be repaired any more, and the dried food supply is exhausted? What happens when your Level 2 situation (ie a situation where you live off dwindling finite stored resources) becomes a Level 3 situation, requiring an ability to live indefinitely and sustainably into the future with what you can grow/create yourself.
We think it is obvious, at that point, that the silo dwellers will have to return to the surface. The solar cells won’t supply anything like the energy needs to make sub-surface living acceptable, and without abundant energy, we have grave doubts about the viability of the hydroponics, and without massive stored fish food, we don’t see the aquaculture as being too sustainable either.
So, some years after TSHTF (and assuming your silo retreat wasn’t overwhelmed by looters prior to this point), the million dollar investment means that you’re back on the surface, with nothing and nowhere to go. Your hole in the ground has become, sadly, just that again. A dark, dank, lifeless hole in the ground.
A Better Alternative – The Code Green Community
Code Green is developing an alternative approach to providing shelter, safety, and survival for a Level 2 and Level 3 scenario; an open above ground community rather than an underground silo.
Sure, it will be vulnerable to nuclear attack, but our location, in rural Idaho, is not somewhere likely to experience any nuclear bombs landing, and as our comments above illustrated, if there is to be a nuclear attack, the chances are none of us would have enough time to get to a nuclear hardened shelter anyway (how quickly can you get to Salina, KS?).
Retreat units are available at a range of levels, or you can have your own built exactly as you wish. Basic condos with a year of food, water and energy for four people, plus a generous plot of land to use as you wish, start at $250,000; free-standing units are of course more expensive.
Best of all, a Code Green retreat is a dwelling that you can spend time in and enjoy as part of your normal life. Come spend your summers there (or your winters, for that matter, too). Indeed, for people able to consider this, come and become part of our year-round community. Become a small farmer or rural shop owner, enjoy a lovely lifestyle with no need to worry about needing to ‘bug out’ in an emergency. You’ve already bugged out!
The units have windows that open and which you can see out, reasonably normal doors that when you step through take you into the outside fresh air, and if the Level 2 situation becomes a Level 3 situation, they give you the basics to start an ongoing new sustainable life, as part of a supportive community of like-minded souls. Contact us for more details.