Switzerland prepares to survive a nuclear war

If a nuclear catastrophe ever strikes Switzerland, Marianne Blumer will be in charge of the safety of 8,000 Zurich citizens.

Each year she devotes some 120 days to preparing for just such a possibility. She does not have to serve in the country's civil defense. The soft-spoken Mrs. Blumer does it because she believes that, if a nation is well prepared, chances are that a significant number of its people can survive a nuclear war by moving underground.

She dismisses popular theory that survival would not be worthwhile in a destroyed world: ''You just have to look at human history. Man has always wanted to live on despite everything.''

Marianne Blumer expresses the opinion of a majority of Swiss. In a recent survey by the Zurich-based pollsters, Isopublic, only 1 percent of the Swiss population thought that civil defense was unnecessary. More than 70 percent believed that a nuclear war could be survived through such preparation.

In recent months, as the gap between the big nuclear powers has widened and a nuclear war over Europe seems not quite so impossible as it once did, civil defense has become a hot topic here.

Though Switzerland is one of the world's leaders in such defense, specialists are pushing for a speedup in an already far-advanced program aimed at supplying every member of the population with a fully protected, antinuclear shelter by the year 2000.

Zurich Civil Defense chief Heinrich Stelzer asks: ''Do we have time to wait till 2000?''

Grass-roots support for civil defense dates back to 1959, when the Swiss people voted in a national referendum for an addition to the Constitution guaranteeing protection of the civilian population in times of national catastrophe.

Since then 4.75 million nuclear-proof shelters have been built underground for the 6.3 million population. New houses are constructed with cellars bolstered by thick, air-tight doors. The cellars used for storage in peacetime could quickly be turned into protective shelters if the alarm sounds. Wooden slats separating the storage compartments can be transformed into bunk beds.

Switzerland's community shelters, subterranean hospitals, operating theaters, and first aid centers are spread under schools, churches, and restaurants, in park houses and alpine caves.

From some 1,000 command posts firefighters, security guards, atomic and chemical experts will be directed in cleaning up the havoc and distributing food to the population.

The tiny lakeside village of Ruschlikon, 10 minutes from Zurich, is a typical example. A civil defense cavern under the local school is entered through a decontamination area that leads into a complex with 135 beds, a fully prepared operating theater, and a radio room/command post that would maintain contact with the village population waiting in their underground cellars for news and instructions.

Instead of the depressing gray one might expect in a doomsday bunker, the Ruschlikon underground center is brightened by cheery splashes of blue paint. Civil defense personnel wear snappy blue overalls and a canary yellow helmet. On their feet - practical American sneakers.

Every Swiss family is expected to keep enough rations on hand for a two-week sojourn down below. Official pamphlets advise a permanent supply of sugar, rice, oil, fruit juice, coffee, mineral water, canned meat, and honey.

In addition, some $20 million in survival rations is at present being distributed to the country's 3,000 communities. The object is to keep each citizen supplied with adequate nutrition for three days.

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