Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reawakened interest in Switzerland’s concrete nuclear fallout shelters, built during the Cold War with enough space to shelter everyone in the country.
Since the 1960s, every Swiss municipality has had to build nuclear
The shelters have become an integral part of the Swiss identity, on a par with the country’s famous chocolate, banks and watches.
But the underground spaces, long seen as a quirky curiosity mostly used for storage or as very well-protected wine cellars, are being viewed in a new light since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Just days into the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin put the country’s strategic nuclear forces on high alert, sparking global alarm.
Fierce fighting near Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, including Chernobyl — the sight of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986 — have also heightened fears that even traditionally neutral Switzerland could be affected by the war.
– ‘Ukraine is very nearby’ – “People are discovering that Ukraine is very nearby,” Marie Claude Noth-Ecoeur, who heads civil and military security services in the mountainous southern Wallis region, told AFP.
The wealthy Alpine country has pledged that each and every resident will have a shelter space if needed.
In fact, the country of 8.6 million people counts nearly nine million spaces across 365,000 private and public shelters.
But while there are more than enough spots at a national level, there are vast regional differences.
Geneva is worst off, with only enough places for 75 percent of its population.
Nicola Squillaci, head of Geneva’s civil protection and military affairs division, said the shelters were conceived to provide protection “especially in the case of a bombing and a nuclear attack”.
They would help protect the population “against the shock waves, and against radioactivity in the air”, he told AFP.
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