History: Atomic bomb shelter TNO Den Haag Waalsdorp


Atomic bomb shelter TNO Den Haag Waalsdorp

During the construction of the new TNO laboratory on the Waalsdorpervlakte in The Hague in the sixties of the last century, it was still necessary to take into account a possible nuclear attack by the Eastern Bloc. The Western powers under the leadership of the United States of America were still in conflict with the Eastern Bloc countries under the leadership of the Soviet Union. Although mainly in a political struggle, it could still result in a nuclear war with the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs as a result. Atomic bomb shelters were built to be somewhat protected against such attacks. These shelters were built and equipped in particular in the vicinity of administrative centres of, for example, the central government.

For the TNO Physics Laboratory of the NDRO (Netherlands Defence Research Organisation) to be built in 1967/1968, meant that a shelter had to be constructed to accommodate around 250 people for several weeks. The atomic bomb shelter is indicated in red in the accompanying illustration. The spaces numbered 205 to 219A are part of this shelter and are located under a part of the building complex. The green-coloured room was originally also part of the abovementioned shelter but was converted into toilet space shortly after the building was completed in 1968.

Map of the atomic bomb shelter
Map of the atomic bomb shelter

When using the shelter after an atomic attack, a certain access procedure to those rooms had to be followed. Through the bombproof entrance door in the back of room 200, one enters the collection room 205 where one could get rid of nuclear-contaminated clothing to be able to go to the other rooms through the showers in room 205A. The other bomb-free door, from room 210, was therefore intended as an exit.
One of the other exits is in room 213 and one is in room 217. With the aid of bricked iron brackets, a metal shutter can be reached at the top, which is closed with toggles. These shutters provide access to the above-ground outside world.
The rooms 219A, and 219, and the room next to them (the part that has been converted directly into toilets) would serve as technical rooms for the treatment of the outside air to be sucked in and the pumping up of the required drinking and drinking water.

Because the building was built and managed under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence, guidelines were set by the Corps Pioneers as a department of the Royal Netherlands Army for the construction of the bunker. In a report from the consulting firm of the Corps Pioneers of January 1968, indicating directions for users of a shelter:

  • For the capacity of the accommodation it was stated:
    “To make the capacity of the construction as large as possible and to minimise the chance of catching conventional projectiles, a shelter must have the smallest possible size. That is why a shelter with space has to be considered as in a submarine. It is necessary to leave as little unused space as possible. The people in a shelter therefore literally live shoulder to shoulder“.
  • For the space for medical facilities, it was stated:
    In a 54-person hiding place (designed for 1 x 18 beds + 2 x 18 seats) one could reserve for the medical service: 2 beds hospital and 4 seats sick report. Then one can accommodate a healthy total strength of 1 x 16 on bed + 2 x 16 on seats (= 48 people) + 4 seats sick report + 2 empty beds. If necessary, two bedridden patients can be taken care of without further measures and – if necessary after some regrouping in the teams – a third bedridden patient can be admitted (thanks to the reduced strength of the rotating staff). One can accommodate: 3 bedridden + 15 others in bed + 2 x 15 others on seats (= 48 people) and then has still 0 beds and 6 seats sick report space. If necessary, a “bed” could be improvised in the sick report room“.

The indoor climate

The climate
The packed occupation produces heat and moisture, among other things, which have to be removed. With a submarine, the drain is easy, because it is surrounded by a practically unlimited amount of cooling water. A shelter as this lacks that advantage. Cooling water is usually scarce or missing altogether. As a result, a stuffy, moist-hot climate develops in a shelter. An air treatment installation, which could achieve a better-than-just-admissible climate, is often either prohibitively expensive or technically non-existent. It is necessary to accept that the air temperatures rise to about 30 o C with approximately 80% relative humidity.

The long stay
The hardships of long-term residence in a home should not be underestimated; there is a lack of room for manoeuvre, a lack of personal freedom and lives in an uneasy climate. Under war conditions, these disadvantages are also aggravated by the ever-increasing chance of a fateful hit and the agonising anxiety about the fate of dear relations elsewhere. These influences put heavy pressure on the occupation. A weak reflection of the effect of this pressure on the behaviour of staff in a shelter has been investigated in experiments under peaceful conditions. The tests state beyond all doubt that all possible care must be taken to ensure the maintenance of tolerable living conditions. In those circumstances, preferably embodied in the figure of a designated shelter commander who, as an undisputed leader, conducts a one-handed central regime. The personality of the shelter commander is the decisive factor for well-being in the shelter.

Work Shifts

  • Bed rest
    When setting up a shelter, it is generally assumed in principle that 1/3 of the workforce is located in the sleeping accommodation and 2/3 of the workforce stays elsewhere in the shelter. So that everybody, in turn, can enjoy an undisturbed bed rest of about 7 consecutive hours per day, a shift system must be introduced.
  • The food
    Meals shall be distributed evenly over the 24 hours so that food preparation will not cause a peak in heat production. In addition, the benefits that someone loses in the accommodation as a result of enjoying bed rest must be as equal as possible for everyone.
  • The change of teams
    When changing teams, two teams must slide past each other in a very concise space. To ensure smooth movement, a traffic regulation must be observed, especially in an extra-packed shelter. Because people have to wait for each other, changing shifts takes time. As soon as the start of the team change is announced, each member of both teams must collect his personal belongings and make himself ready to travel. For example, half an hour is allocated for this preparation. As the seating area (for 2 shifts) is larger than the sleeping space (for 1 shift), after the preparation time, the following instructions are given in succession:
  • The sleeping area (or a part thereof) was vacated;
  • The staff from the sleeping area will present themselves for a moment in the aisles of the sitting room;
  • The sleeping area (or the vacated part thereof) involved;
  • The vacated seating space involved.


In the case of NBC (Nuclear Bacteriological or Chemical) contamination, a person wanting to enter the shelter deposits his contaminated clothing and footwear as soon as possible at the designated collection point. After entering the decontamination area, see also the access procedure described above, the last undergarments must be thrown away in the lockable receptacle provided there. Then the skin of the arrived person must be thoroughly cleaned by all-sided showering. After that, the decontamination person enters the dressing room where the doorman provides uncontaminated clothing and a towel. After the arrived has dressed, the doorman continues with other work.

The pictures below give a picture of the housing and accommodation for about 250 persons described above:








On 10 June 1980, in a letter to the Secretary of the Defence Research Organisation TNO in The Hague, the director of the laboratory indicated what the costs would be for the completion of the nuclear bomb shelter (cost level of mid-1977). Because of the high costs for the finalisation of the shelter and the insufficient capacity for the full workforce at that time, this preparation was also abandoned because the political tensions with the Eastern Bloc countries were reduced.


Letter stating the costs of 340.000 Dutch guilders (1977 cost level)
A letter stating the costs of 340.000 Dutch guilders (1977 cost level)