Russian Threats Rekindle Old Nuclear Fears in Central Europe | War news between Russia and Ukraine

Two floors below a modern steel mill on the northern outskirts of Warsaw lies a pristine Cold War relic: a shelter containing gas masks, stretchers, first aid kits and other items intended to help civil defense leaders survive and guide rescue operations in the event of a nuclear attack or other disasters.

A map of Europe on a wall still shows the Soviet Union – and no independent Ukraine. Old boots and coats give off a musty smell.

A military field control center warns, “Watch out, your enemy is listening.”

Until now, no one had seriously considered that the rooms built in the 1950s—which, according to spokeswoman Ewa Karpinska, are now maintained by the ArcelorMittal Warszawa factory as a “historic curio”—could someday be used as shelters again. . But as Russia storms Ukraine with shelling around a nuclear power plant and repeated Russian threats to use a nuclear weapon, the Polish government this month ordered an inventory of the country’s 62,000 air raid shelters.

The war has caused fears all over Europe, and these are especially felt in countries like Poland and Romania which border Ukraine and would be very vulnerable in the event of a radiological disaster.

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Following the order of the Polish government, firefighters visited the steel mill’s shelter last week and registered it. Warsaw’s leaders said the city’s subway and other underground shelters could contain all 1.8 million residents and more in the event of an attack with conventional weapons.

ArcelorMittal Warszawa’s Karpinska factory suddenly gets questions about the shelter. After Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to launch a tactical nuclear strike, “everyone is concerned,” she said. “I believe he won’t” [stage a nuclear attack]that it would be completely crazy, but no one really believed he was going to start this war.”

During fighting around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Poland also drafted a plan to provide potassium iodide tablets to local fire stations, which would distribute them to the population if necessary. There has been a rush for potassium iodide – which protects the thyroid gland in the neck when exposed to radiation – elsewhere in Europe, including in Finland, where the government urged the population to buy it.

During the Cold War there were hundreds of thousands of shelters in Europe. Some dated back to the build-up to World War II, while communist-era authorities also ordered new housing and manufacturing facilities to include underground shelters.

Finland, which borders Russia with Sweden and Denmark, has kept its shelters in order. For example, Finland has shelter in cities and other densely populated areas that can accommodate about two-thirds of the population. A few of them are designed to withstand the detonation of a 100 kiloton atomic bomb.

While some countries still maintain their underground Cold War hideouts, some were turned into museums after the collapse of the Soviet Union — relics of an earlier era of nuclear fears that would offer no real protection today.

Bomb shelters were a key element in the former Yugoslavia’s preparedness doctrine against a nuclear attack.

Ewa Karpinska, spokesman for the ArcelorMittal Warsaw steel plant, shows an old map in a Cold War air raid shelter under the plant in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, October 20, 2022. Fighting around Ukraine's nuclear power plants and Russia's threat to use nuclear weapons have reawaken nuclear fear in Europe.  This is particularly noticeable in countries close to Ukraine, such as Poland, where the government this month ordered a precautionary inventory of the country's shelters.  (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)
Ewa Karpinska, spokesman for the ArcelorMittal Warsaw steel plant, shows an old map in a Cold War air raid shelter under the factory in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday. [Michal Dyjuk/AP]

Most famous of all, in a mountainous area 60 kilometers (35 miles) from Sarajevo in Bosnia, is a huge underground fortress built to protect military and political leaders. Known then only to the Yugoslav president, four generals and a handful of soldiers guarding it, the Konjic site was transformed into a modern art gallery in 2010.

“Unfortunately, from a military-political and geopolitical point of view, the global environment right now is very similar to what it was like.” [during the Cold War]weighed down by a very strong sense of an impending war,” said Selma Hadzihuseinovic, the representative of a government agency that manages the site.

She said the bunker could be put back into service in another war, but now that nuclear weapons have become much more powerful it would not be “as useful as it was intended when it was built”.

In Romania, a huge former salt mine, Salina Turda, now a tourist attraction, is on a government list of possible shelters.

Many city dwellers also pass by shelters every day without realizing it while traveling by metro in cities like Warsaw, Prague and Budapest.

“We measured how many people fit on trains along the entire length of the metro, in metro stations and other underground spaces,” said Michal Domaradzki, director of security and crisis management for the city of Warsaw. “There is enough space for the entire population.”

Attila Gulyas, president of the Hungarian capital’s Urban Transport Workers’ Union, has been involved in regular exercises of the city’s metro lines. He was trained to accommodate thousands of people as the head of the Astoria station on Budapest metro line 2.

“The system still exists, it works perfectly; it can be deployed in any emergency situation,” Gulyas said. “Up to 220,000 people can be protected by the shelter system in the tunnels of metro lines 2 and 3.”

But with Russia waging an energy war against Europe and power costs soaring, the biggest concern for many is how they’ll get through the winter.

Sorin Ionita, a commentator at the Expert Forum in Bucharest, Romania, said many consider a Russian nuclear attack unlikely because it “would not give the Russians a major military advantage.”

Yet Putin’s threats contribute to a general sense of fear in a world in turmoil.

Just days after the Russian invasion began, Czechs bought potassium iodide pills as a sort of precaution against a nuclear attack. Experts have said these can help with a nuclear power plant disaster, but not against a nuclear weapon.

Dana Drabova, the head of the State Office for Nuclear Safety, said that in such a case, the anti-radiation pills would be “useless.”

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