In a few weeks, Covid-19 pandemic fears in Europe have given way to another nightmarish concern: the possibility that Russia might use a nuclear weapon.

Since Russia’s unprovoked attack on UkraineU.S. and foreign residential bunker makers say they’ve seen an increase in customer inquiries and orders — a spike they attribute to the war in Eastern Europe and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision at the end of the month last to put his country nuclear forces on alert.

Gary Lynch, managing director of Rising S Company, a residential bunker builder based in Murchison, Texas, said he recently started receiving inquiries from potential customers in Italy, Romania, Sweden and the UK. , in addition to the United States and Canada.

“We have a global superpower threatening to use nuclear weapons; that alone is scary enough,” he told CBS MoneyWatch.

“Excellent man caves”

Manufacturers claim that prefabricated shelters will withstand exposure to chemical, biological and nuclear attack. Some use a steel frame strong enough to withstand earthquakes and include bulletproof doors. High-end models — which can cost millions of dollars — can include air filtration systems, solar charging stations, fresh water inlets, waste disposal tanks, and infrared security.

Rising S manufactures bunkers in a local factory and ships them overseas. In a recent 10-day period, Lynch said he received 1,600 requests from people interested in an underground shelter where they could take refuge in the event of a nuclear accident. That compares to the two to six calls he would normally have received in the same period from consumers looking to build a panic room or secure storage spaces for weapons or valuables.

Forty of these customer inquiries led to the sale of bunkers ranging in price from $60,000 to around $200,000 including installation.

“Normally, in the same amount of time, I would have sold five,” Lynch said, describing her new customers as “hard-working people who take the necessary steps to protect their loved ones.”

“They make great man caves or extra sleeping for the extended family, and they’re good for safe rooms,” he added. “Maybe you don’t use it today, but you use it in a week or a year.”

Interest in residential bunkers comes from people of all income levels. Mathieu Séranne, founder of Artemis Protection, a Paris-based company that sells and installs luxury prefab bunkers for a variety of uses, said he’s noticed a similar uptick in interest in his company’s products.

Before the war, the year-old Séranne business worked mainly with wealthy clients, but interest in shelters is now surging from people of different income levels in Finland, France, Poland , in Russia, the United States and Canada, he told CBS MoneyWatch. This includes requests from contractors, a doctor, a postal worker and an Amazon worker, among others.

“Before, I was talking to all the wealthy people, because the shelters we build are spacious and equipped with everything they need. Since the Ukraine crisis, we have heard from so many normal people, and we have had to adapt in an emergency to build smaller, stripped-down shelters that we can produce and deliver quickly,” he said.

Million Dollar Panic Room

The current generation of residential bunkers are far more comfortable than the Spartan fallout shelters that many Americans added to their homes at the start of the Cold War, when President John F. Kennedy urged people to build bombproof structures. radiation.

Indeed, a premium Artemis Protection bunker looks like a luxury apartment, with high ceilings, recessed lighting and high-end amenities, as well as basic amenities including a living room, shower and TV.

A base model with fewer amenities and measuring just over 30 square feet costs around $166,000.

“So the sky’s the limit for the rest,” Séranne said. “Some want them to be over 100 square meters [1,076 square feet]which costs more than a million euros.

The finest bunkers are designed to look like “an underground mountain chalet”, according to Séranne. “We don’t sell scary bunkers. Customers come to us because they want something nice that they can live in all year round and feel good about themselves. It’s something warm and welcoming that changes the image we have of a bunker.

Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Séranne has received more than 700 requests for quotes, of which about forty resulted in sales.

“It’s an emotional situation. People are scared. We did not expect this in our marketing strategy,” he conceded.

“Call only on fears of atomic war”

Séranne also thinks some new customers are stretching their budgets, an indication of the level of intense anxiety that the Ukrainian conflict – the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II – has caused among Europeans. Another sign of the times, pharmacies in Finland, Norway and Luxembourg have sold iodine and potassium iodide pillswhich can be used to mitigate the effects of nuclear radiation exposure.

“Some of them can afford it, others will take out lines of credit from their bank – or decide not to invest in a motorhome and go on a trip, and instead put the money in an extension home,” he said.

Giulio Cavicchioli, owner of Minus Energie, an Italian manufacturer of “safe homes”, said that in the past two weeks he had received more inquiries from potential buyers than in the past 22 years.

Previously, Minus Energie largely catered to clients interested in building safe rooms for their valuables or weapons storage structures. “Now they only call for fear of an atomic war; that’s it,” Cavicchioli said.

From start to finish, obtaining the proper permits and constructing a bunker designed to survive a nuclear explosion takes about four months.

“I hope this tragedy ends much sooner than that,” he said.

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