Unknown to the majority of the Wasteland, a secret behemoth of terror slept beneath the ground, only to awake with plans to reshape the Wastes in their image.

Before the Great War of 1962, a large contingent of High Ranking American politicians, Military Brass, and Wealthy Businessmen had built a great bunker in the most remote part of Idaho. When the atomic bombs rained down on the country, they retreated to the underground, and hid there for over 97 years. There, while the rest of the Wasteland struggled to survive and rebuild, they continued to advance technologically.

The Bunker Dwellers, as they are known, have access to technology beyond the wildest dreams of a Wastelander. Motor vehicles, filtrated water, rotary aircraft, to name a few. While they have a small population of only 5,000, they can beat entire small armies with their military force.

In my story, they stay in their Bunker from the year 1962-2059, about 97 years. My question is, what is a plausible reason for them staying in their bunker for that long of a time?


closed as off-topic by Renan, elemtilas, JBH, DT Cooper, user535733 Feb 18 at 1:57

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  • $\begingroup$ If you assume that the leaders who had this place built were in their 40s and 50s when they went in, they'd be in their 80s and 90s when they were supposed to come out. Did they have some technological way of dealing with that (stasis? life extension?) or was their plan all along to have future generations emerge instead? $\endgroup$ – Cadence Feb 17 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ Just thought I should point out, your premise is, almost word for word, the story of the Enclave from the Fallout series. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Feb 17 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII: Well im sorry, but Fallout took all the good ideas $\endgroup$ – DT Cooper Feb 18 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ Why would someone X? questions are generally off-topic as they're frequently too broad, too opinion-based, or too story-based. What rule of your world are you asking about? Because it doesn't appear that you're asking about building your world at all, but circumstances, which is storybuilding, which is off-topic. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 18 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, to be clear about the primarily opinion-based point: the help center specifically states that questions "every answer is equally valid" are inappropriate. As written, there's no difference between "the mechanism to open the door broke down" and "the nuclear winter lasted 90 years." This is why you need to focus on world rules and not plot ideas. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 18 at 0:55

It's about Realpolitik as usual.

The commissioning, building and all procedures associated with inhabitation of the bunker were set up by people with their own frailties and self interests:

  • The Whitehouse scientific advisor wrote a report saying safe recovery time for worst case (after Unspecified Catastrophe) 'till things were safe was 100 years, because it "sounds about right". He's an ex high-school science teacher who's daughter is BFF with the President's favourite secretary with soft lips and a flexible attitude to where she puts them. He was appointed to the position (after losing his teaching job for unspecified reasons) and is eager to please despite only having a basic degree in geography.

  • The building contractor has decided to help out the Chairman of the funding committee who is embarrassed financially since his divorce and the allimony he's paying - the Chairman easily convinces the committee to overspend on the contract for the underground structure, because he has dirt on two of them and the rest are glove-puppets anyhow.

  • The Oversight committee give the contract to equip the bunker - including sensors to detect all conditions outside - to the lowest bidder. The equipment is bright and shiny (and doesn't last five years under prevailing environmental conditions near the bunker), the backup equipment is incompatible with the computer system - also designed by the lowest bidder, it's hushed-up and the project continues sub-par.

In the bunker:

  • Those in the bunker are blind to what it's like outside and dogmatically decide to stay inside until ~ 100 years have passed according to the original report's recommendations.


  • Eventually they decide 97 - 100, what's the difference and open the doors.

  • The $3 Million Atomic clock that they tell time by fails and they think 100 years have passed anyhow.

  • $\begingroup$ Government bureaucracy - the only reason needed. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 18 at 0:55

In terms of radiation, there is no reason that your bunker dwellers would normally choose to remain in the bunker that long. Even if the nuclear war was total, the most dangerous short-lived isotopes will have decayed below the threshold of being hazardous within six months, and the long-lived isotopes will be in the environment for tens of thousands of years, so there is no point in trying to avoid those.

There is no real consensus on how long nuclear winter will last, as it is very difficult to model. Although some reasonably believable studies have concluded that it'll be somewhere between 15 and 25 years before agriculture becomes possible again. It wouldn't be entirely unrealistic for nuclear winter to last 90 years if there were an unknown climactic element involved, so perhaps that is an option?

Another possibility is, perhaps the bunker has a malfunctioning radiation detector that is reporting deadly levels of radiation outside even after, in reality, the outside environment has returned to a reasonable state of habitability? Eventually, the bunker dwellers throw caution to the wind and emerge, only to discover that their detector has been giving them a false reading for almost a century?

  • $\begingroup$ The best real life example is Chernobyl and Fukushima. Even Nagasaki and Hiroshima. But 30 years to livable is a good ballpark figure. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 18 at 0:56

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