Surviving Global Catastrophe in Nuclear Submarines as Refuges

Our article about using nuclear submarines as refuges in case of a global catastrophe has been accepted for the Futures journal and its preprint is available online. Preventing global risks or surviving them is good application of EA efforts. Converting existing nuclear submarines into refuges may be cheap intervention with high impact. 

Aquatic Refuges for Surviving a Global Catastrophe


Recently many methods for reducing the risk of human extinction have been suggested, including building refuges underground and in space. Here we will discuss the perspective of using military nuclear submarines or their derivatives to ensure the survival of a small portion of humanity who will be able to rebuild human civilization after a large catastrophe. We will show that it is a very cost-effective way to build refuges, and viable solutions exist for various budgets and timeframes. Nuclear submarines are surface independent, and could provide energy, oxygen, fresh water and perhaps even food for their inhabitants for years. They are able to withstand close nuclear explosions and radiation. They are able to maintain isolation from biological attacks and most known weapons. They already exist and need only small adaptation to be used as refuges. But building refuges is only “Plan B” of existential risk preparation; it is better to eliminate such risks than try to survive them.


  • global catastrophic risk
  • existential risk
  • refuges
  • disaster shelters
  • social collapse
  • human extinction



• Nuclear submarines could be effective refuges from several types of global catastrophes.
• Existing military submarines could be upgraded for this function with relatively low cost.
• Contemporary submarines could provide several months of surface independence.
• A specially designed fleet of nuclear submarines could potentially survive years or even decades under water.



Full text: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016328716303494?np=y&npKey=6dcc6d35057e4c51bfd8d6933ab62c6d4a1604b5b71a40f060eb49dc7f42c9a1 


Comments (4)

Comment author: Daniel_Eth 07 April 2017 12:25:21AM 0 points [-]

Looks like good work! My biggest question is how would you get people to actually do this? I'd imagine there are a lot of people that would want to go to Mars since that seems like a great adventure, but living in a submarine in case there's a catastrophe isn't something that I think would appeal to many people, nor is funding the project.

Comment author: turchin 07 April 2017 07:11:11AM 3 points [-]

If we promise that people who want to go to Mars have to serve a year on a refuge-submarine, there will be a lot of volonteers - and we could choose the best.

Or we could collect the crews the same way as military crews are collected - combining prestige and salary.

Comment author: JacobLBryan 06 April 2017 10:57:28AM 0 points [-]

When you get to scenario three where a nuclear submarine is operating under a private non-governmental organization I have to wonder about precedent for governments allowing fissile material into private control, especially absent a lot of the governmental controls that existing power plants have in place.

(You have a typo in figure 1, years not tears.)

Comment author: turchin 06 April 2017 12:34:47PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for typo hint!

I think that they mostly should be operating under general government control. There are also several private companies which licensed to make nuclear power plants etc like Westinghouse, and the same companies could operate nuclear powered ships and submarines.