Pandemic fears give way to overcrowding for bomb shelters

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Pandemic fears give way to overcrowding for bomb shelters

BAGNOLO SAN VITO, Italy – Across a footbridge from a busy shopping outlet surrounded by lush fields in northern Italy, workers in a non-detailing warehouse prepare for a nuclear attack, its radioactive fallout and the end of the world. we know.

“We have found ourselves in the middle of this huge cyclone of demand,” said Giulio Cavicchioli, as he showed off an underground air filtration system that “cleans” radioactive particles, nerve gas and other biological agents and made a video of a nuclear Tour runs the shelter that was “ready to use.” His company, Minus Energy, has gone from working on 50 bunkers over the past 22 years to 500 inquiries in the past two weeks.

“It’s a frenzy to build bunkers,” he said, fueled by fears of Russian nuclear weapons reaching across Europe. “It’s so scary now.”

In the days when Russian President Vladimir V. Putin launched his war on Ukraine, and put his nuclear forces into “special combat readiness”, the intense violence and legacy of the two world wars made Europe fear a nuclear disaster for the first time. has revived. time in decades.

Europe has already spent two years on high alert against the pandemic. But now the expressions of its concerns and desires for self-defense have shifted from Covid masks, vaccines and lockdowns to bunkers, iodine pills and nuclear war air raid sirens.

From Italy to Sweden, from Belgium to Britain, the ghost of nuclear war, which seemed a relic of the past, is entering a new generation of European consciousness. And it’s prompting a fresh look at defense infrastructure, survival guides and Fallout shelters that, not long ago, were in the realm of camouflage-wearing, assault-weapon-toting existentialists or crazy billionaires.

“We are deeply concerned by the risks to nuclear safety, security and security measures caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the European Union said in a statement on Wednesday.

Hamish de Breton-Gordon, former Commander of Chemicals for the United Kingdom and NATO, said, “Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we’ve all forgotten about it and put it to bed until, you know, crazy. The man didn’t attack.” Biological and Nuclear Defense Forces, and now Visiting Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

He said bunkers across Europe were “destroyed” and rotten. “We are not fully prepared,” said Mr. de Breton-Gordon. “But every day as it progresses, it’s becoming a reality that this is actually something that we need to think about in some detail.”

Countries sitting close to Russia are already thinking about it.

On Russia’s western border, Finland has maintained high military preparedness over the years, tests alarms regularly, and has a “long tradition of preparedness”, according to Petri Toivonen, secretary general of the Secretariat of Finland’s Security Committee. He wrote in an email that “we are constantly building shelters”.

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He added that “we currently have a capacity of about 4,000,000 people in about 50,000 shelters.”

In Sweden, Russia’s annexation of Crimea initiated a “total defence” strategy, which was eased after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now, Sweden’s civil contingency agency is testing its air-raid warning system and issuing a Cold War-era-style precautionary pamphlet. The 20-page guide includes a checklist for basic supplies for running to and from the supermarket or surviving at the shelter.

Far and wide, there is growing demand for bunkers and fallout shelters, which are penetrating a wider market than just the wealthy.

“Picture it like a chalet, but underground,” said Mathieu Serene, founder of Artemis Protection, a French manufacturer of prefabricated luxury bunkers with air-filtration systems that cost at least half a million euros per shelter.

Previously, only “really wealthy people” were interested in them, he said.

“But then, two weeks ago, we started getting tons and tons of demand from ordinary people,” Mr Serene said. “We had to change our entire business strategy.”

He said he had received about 300 inquiries, and was selling stripped-down shelters that are too cheap – about €140,000, or about $152,000 – and smaller “to adapt to this new demand.” He added that ten bare-bones bunkers were already in production.

But he said that France is far behind its neighboring country Switzerland in preparedness. The Swiss passed a law requiring nuclear shelters in residential buildings in the 1960s. While the liability was recently softened, the reinforced steel doors and gas filters of bunkers are familiar aspects in homes across the country. There are also over 350,000 communal bunkers – including a shelter atop the Lucerne Highway for 20,000 people – that could protect the entire population.

Mr de Breton-Gordon said that the approximately 650 bunkers in use in Britain after World War II were no longer operational, had few tourist attractions and were at least now used as a fine wine cellar. Some who still worked served government officials.

Outside the bunkers, others are calling for protection from iodine tablets, which, when taken correctly, may help the thyroid absorb radiation and prevent cancer from being exposed to it.

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Belgium is meeting a sharp increase in demand with packs of free pills for anyone with an ID card. Michael Storm, an official with the country’s pharmacists union, told Belgian news agency Belga that last Monday alone the country’s pharmacies distributed more than 30,000 boxes. Demand has also increased in the Netherlands and Finland.

In Italy, iodine-based vitamins are flying off the shelves.

“This is the new trend,” said Stefano Franceschini, a pharmacist in Rome. “People buy vitamins with small amounts of iodine in it, it’s unclear what they are and what exactly might save them in case of a nuclear explosion. Basically out of fear.”

Andrea Neri, a pharmacist in Central Trieste, a city in Italy’s northeast, said the vitamins were probably useless, but at least they weren’t dangerous.

“Potassium iodide was taken in the 1980s after the Chernobyl explosion, but it is a poison and is only available under medical prescription,” he said. “Most people who inquire about it find that they need to ask their general practitioner.”

Mr. de Breton-Gordon said iodine pills can only do so much and the best prevention is to avoid conflict – and to be prepared.

Like many countries during the Cold War, “briefing citizens what to do and how to survive,” said Mr. de Breton-Gordon, could teach people to shield themselves behind stone walls that Block out radiation or avoid drinking contaminated water.

But he also said Europe should be “extremely concerned” about Russian allegations of chemical and biological weapons in Ukraine, which he and white House A possible false-flag campaign is said to lay the groundwork for the potential use of such weapons.

Mr Putin, he said, had already used a deadly military-grade nerve agent to poison him in Salisbury, England, where Mr de Breton-Gordon lived. “I think we need to sit down and listen,” he said.

Mr. Cavichioli of Minus Energy agreed. But as he walked around his office with a beeping Geiger counter, he said he would prefer to reduce the new demand if it meant an end to the war he called “a tragedy without an end”.

As soon as he returned to his office – where he said that that day he had received 20 emails and phone calls from potential customers “who can’t sleep at night” – he described the bunker owners as doomsday enthusiasts a wrong approach. Was.

“Whoever has the bunker is optimistic,” he said. “They believe that something will happen later – that life will go on.”

Gaia Pianigiani Contributed reporting from Siena.

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