Bunker makers say business is booming – but there’s a reason governments have left bomb shelters behind

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Amid the daily scenes of devastation in Ukraine, one sector is profiting from growing fears of war: global manufacturers of backyard bunkers.

“From the first day it started in Ukraine… my phones were ringing,” said Charles Hardman, director of Subterranean Spaces, a bespoke bunker and basement design company in the UK. “Everyone was really starting to get scared.”

The escalating conflict in Russia has sparked an outpouring of concern across Europe over the threat of nuclear war, prompting some to explore the possibility of building their own shelter or renting space in other former government installations abandoned for their inability to protect civilian populations.

Data from Google Trends shows that searches for “bunker” have reached levels not seen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Searches for “nuclear,” meanwhile, are the highest since the 2011 Fukushima disaster.)

Mathieu Séranne, whose Paris-based company Artemis Protection is just a year old, said he has received more than 900 requests for quotes and designs since the start of the war five weeks ago.

“We have very, very different types of people and from different backgrounds,” he said. “And we weren’t prepared for that.”

A luxury bunker design by Artemis Protection costs almost $200,000. (Artemis Protection)

Séranne, like Hardman, designs luxury bespoke bunkers that start at nearly $200,000. Many number in the millions. In times of peace, they look like a game room, a home cinema or even an entire underground house.

One of Hardman’s projects is 4,300 square feet, he said — enough room “for the family and for the staff who run the house.”

“Not cheap to build”

If things go wrong, they contain filtration systems, generators and meters of concrete that the makers say are needed to withstand a nuclear or chemical attack.

“They’re not cheap to build,” Hardman said. “And if someone says it is, then they are lying.”

Building is not the only option. Other wealthy survivalists buy space in disused government bunkers, often at exorbitant prices.

Vivos Europa One, a luxury bunker project inside a former East German government bunker, is still not habitable, but the tunnels are being sold for nearly $3 million apiece. (Vivos Survival Shelter)

In 2014, a 15 story condo built inside an old missile silo in Kansas was able to sell its 75 units for $1.9 million and more.

More recently, Vivos Survival Shelters began selling space in a former East German bunker for $2.7million – although Dante Vicino, their executive director, said they were “still working” to make it back livable.

“If Germany is invaded tomorrow, unfortunately it will not be ready for that,” he said.

But it’s not just the rich who buy. Vivos is also trying to respond to doomsday preppers and survivalistswho, according to Vicino, “read the tea leaves” and were not surprised by the outbreak of war.

At the company’s xPoint facility in South Dakota, you can have your own bunker at a former military base billed as the “world’s largest survival community,” for $45,000 plus $100,000 or more. in customization costs.

Dante Vicino, executive director of Vivos Survival Shelters, says projects like xPoint aim to “democratize the idea of ​​owning a bunker”. (Submitted by Dante Vicino)

But the growing number of privatized facilities like Vivos Europa One highlights another reality that bunkermakers may be more hesitant to acknowledge: Governments have long given up on bunkering.

After the aerial bombardments of World War I and World War II, European countries invested millions in civilian defenses like bunkers, with the aim of minimizing civilian casualties in the next war.

But that changed in 1954, with the first public test of the hydrogen bomb – a weapon thousands of times as devastating as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and capable of producing devastating nuclear fallout that could poison regions.

According to Emily Glass, a British archaeologist and Cold War bunker expert, officials realized they would need to build “an entire underground city” if they were to protect their civilian populations and sustain them until they can safely emerge – months or years later.

A tunnel fork inside Vivos Europa One. Many governments have abandoned the construction of bunkers in the face of the destructive power of hydrogen bombs. (Vivos Survival Shelter)

“It’s something that I don’t think any government has provided anywhere in the world,” she said.

According to Luke Bennett, a researcher in the history of British civil defence, the H-bomb tests marked a fundamental change.

“The military instead [put] their faith – and most of the funds allocated to the fight against the Soviet nuclear threat – in [making more] nuclear weapons,” he wrote in an article from 2018 — as part of a “policy of deterrence by mutual assured destruction”.

Civil defense

Some countries, like Albania, still invested millions in bunker networks, adopting a “nationalist mindset of preparedness”, Glass said, using the constant threat of invasion to suppress opposition to the government.

Some countries still require some form of civil protection. Switzerland requires private home builders to include air-raid shelters in their designs. The Swedish Department of Civil Protection operates a network of over 65,000 public fallout shelters. After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, they recommended building more.

But the more common route was Germany, which gradually closed the nuclear bunkers or sold them to the highest bidder.

The writing remains visible on the wall of the Regierungsbunker, a German government bunker outside Bonn that was decommissioned in the 1990s. It has since been turned into a Cold War museum. (Kajo Meyer/Dokumentationsstatte Regierungsbunker)

Hubert Warner once guarded a bunker near Bonn that was to house the West German government in the event of a nuclear war, built to meet a NATO requirement.

It has since been turned into a Cold War museum and today he guides tours there.

“I think it makes no sense to prepare for nuclear war because there is no possible protection for a nuclear bomb,” he said. “We have had [the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster], and what could people do about it? Nothing.”

“An Expression of Fear”

Recently, Warner said, the museum received calls from people asking if they could “get a spot” in the bunker.

“From my point of view, it is an expression of fear,” he said, “and under fear you cannot [make] right decisions.”

For that reason, he’s skeptical of companies like Vivos Survival Shelters, Artemis Protection and Subterranean Spaces profiting from a moment of high anxiety.

“It’s a good way to make money,” he said. “But this is not a good way to protect the people and prevent war.”

But for bunker builders, there is little room for doubt.

“I think the future is to live underground,” said Hardman of Subterranean Space. “How long are we going to do this?” I’ve no idea.

“But if there is devastation above ground, where [are you going] go? You will sink.”

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