A military bunker in Brdy that reportedly housed Soviet nuclear warheads during the years of the Cold War has been turned into an Atom Museum. It opened to the public last week attracting military buffs and historians from far and wide.
The Javor 51 bunker in the heart of the Brdy military grounds was the most heavily guarded place in the former Czechoslovakia. In was built by the Czech and Soviet military and once the Soviets took it over in 1968 no Czech or Slovak was allowed to set foot in it. In the years between 1968 and 1990 the underground compound, which had its own source of water, its own power generator and air filter, was only accessible to select members of the Soviet military stationed permanently on Czechoslovak territory following the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968. The military site was off-limits to overhead flights and the Brdy area was heavily guarded by Soviet troops.
The reason is that by all accounts it contained a big arsenal of Soviet nuclear warheads. Vaclav Vitkovec, president of the Iron Curtain Foundation which has leased the bunker from the Ministry of Defense and turned it into an atom museum, explains.
“Sometime in 1964 the Soviet and Czechoslovak military signed an agreement to build a facility to house a nuclear weapons arsenal. It was the height of the Cold War and the facility was to help the Warsaw Pact to be better prepared for a possible attack or defense strike. “
Originally the Soviets occupied twenty such bunkers in their former satellite states outside the Soviet Union. Of these just three have been preserved –the one in Brdy, one in Poland and one in Bulgaria. Unlike other bunkers stationed on Czech territory, which were put at the disposal of the Interior Ministry, the one in Brdy remains in the hands of the Czech Defense Ministry which, having no good use for it, agreed to lease it to the Iron Curtain Foundation for its plan to open an atom museum on the premises. Vaclav Vitkovec explains how the museum is arranged:
“The bunker which is about 40 metres square in size is divided up into three sections. The first section contains four cubicles – the first is devoted to the Cold War, and you can see some great photographs from the height of the Cold War. The second is devoted to the Soviet nuclear programme – and one thing I would mention in particular is this photo of the test trail of the Tsar bomb. It was the biggest nuclear explosion conducted on our Planet -57 megatons - the ball of fire it created had a 10-km radius, then there is the Satan missile which contained ten nuclear warheads. In the third cubicle we see pictures of the American nuclear programme – with the Manhattan project and the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. And the last one is devoted to the peaceful use of nuclear energy – so visitors can see details of the operation of the Temelin nuclear power plant and focus on all the ways in which nuclear energy can serve mankind for peaceful purposes.”
The Atom Museum also contains authentic objects that were left behind by the Red Army –including documentation, seals, protective clothing and special instruments that indicate the bunker really was used as a storage facility for nuclear warheads. Further proof of its former importance is the fact that the bunker is located some distance away from the central military headquarters and Soviet troops dug a long underground tunnel linking the headquarters to the bunker to enable undetected movement from one to the other at any given time.
On the day of its opening – August 17th – the museum attracted not just military buffs but ordinary visitors eager for a glimpse inside the long-secreted underground compound.
Man: “I go to places like this regularly and I really appreciate what they have created here. It is a very good job. “
Man : “I am glad to be able to have a look around. I think everyone would benefit from seeing this place. “
For the time being, the Atom Museum is only open between now and October, on Saturdays for two groups of visitors of up to 25 people who are given a guided tour. Visits need to be pre-arranged by phone. But in time the Iron Curtain Foundation hopes to turn it into a much bigger public attraction. Vaclav Vitkovec again:
“We would like to take the project further. The area surrounding this bunker is around 150 hectares and our dream is to turn it into an entertainment park for children and young people in particular. Our working title for the project is Brdoland and we see it as a park which apart from providing entertainment would also be educational as regards nature and history, including the darkest chapters of history which they would find in the bunker and which we are hoping to make into unique museum on a European and world scale.”
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Czechoslovak territory the Brdy bunker was abandoned for many years. It was only used twice –for very diverse purposes. In 1993 following the break-up of Czechoslovakia it served as a temporary storage space for the federation’s defunct currency –housing hundreds of tons of coins and banknotes which were no longer valid until such a time as they could be recycled. In later years the premises were leased to an association that cares for German war graves, which used the bunker as a temporary storage site for the remains of four thousand German soldiers who died on Czech territory during WWII. After they were moved to receive a dignified burial, the site it was once again left empty.
What its fate will be in future years depends largely on public interest in the Atom Museum and the success of the Brdoland project that the Iron Curtain Foundation hopes to realize. The underground bunker itself is of considerable historical value since it is the only one of its kind left which has not been reconstructed or altered in any way.