Threat of nuclear war: from bunkers to iodine pills, what to do and where to take refuge

Vladimir Putin’s new threat has awakened the fears of one nuclear war. In his latest address to the nation, the Russian president not only announced one partial military mobilization with the recall of all reserves, but renewed the possibility for Mosca to resort to the use of nuclear weapons. While the head of the Kremlin ensures for the near future to use “certainly all available means” against theWestthe rest of the world trembles at the idea that the Russia can put his hand to nuclear weapons. These are weapons of mass destruction whose threat of use continues to weigh on millions of people who in these hours are wondering about a hypothetical possibility of salvation. Hence the search for bunker antiatomici where to eventually take refuge, the race to iodineweb searches to understand the best steps to take, i government plans to prepare for possible disaster.

What are the severity levels

The news is that it is possible to save oneself from a nuclear war, provided that fundamental guidelines are followed. A study published in Royal Society showed that in the event that a “low-yield” bomb (between 0.1 and 10 kilotons: less than Hiroshima which was about 15 kilotons) were dropped on a large city, up to 15 kilotons could be saved. 100,000 people, provided that everyone follows the guidelines. In Italy there are no nuclear power plants but our country is equally equipped with a National Plan of protective measures against radiological emergencies: this document will guide the actions of authorities and rescue in the event of an alarm. Meanwhile, the Civil Protection Plan identifies three levels of severity, dictated by the distance of the explosion from the Italian territory:

  • within 200 km of the borders
  • between 200 and 1,000 km from the borders
  • beyond and 1000 km

In the first case there would be an invitation to the population to close themselves at home (no later than two days) and iodine prophylaxis for children, young adults and pregnant women. In a distance between 200 and 1,000km, indirect interventions on the territory, controls on broad-leaf vegetables and fruit, milk, on the agri-food chain and on imports from abroad would be envisaged. Over 1,000 km, interventions would be limited to checks on products arriving from abroad and on the safe return of Italian citizens who may have been exposed to radiation.

Who will the alarm come from

The conventions stipulated by IAEA with the various States, they require each nation to designate the competent authorities for internal and external accidents and an alarm point to receive urgent communications. For Italy it will be up to the Department of Civil Protection (DPC) and the National Inspectorate for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection (ISIN). There are also two other systems, one community and the other international, which are alerted in case of emergency and which will have the task of communicating the state of early warning: the Nuclear Emergency Center (Cen), with an H24 operations room for the coordination of the emergency and the evaluation of the event and the Cevad that will intervene to immediately check the levels of radioactivity in the environment and the consequent levels of exposure: fundamental data for the dissemination of the right information to the population. At that point, the European prompt notification system will also be activated. In the event of a radiological and nuclear emergency, the EU has developed and adopted a rapid information exchange system called European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange. A rapid alert plan that will also involve food and feed (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, RASFF): the network includes all EU Member States and will have the task of notifying in real time the direct and indirect risks to public health related to the consumption of food and feed. The information will be communicated and shared among the States through the RASFF web platform.

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The first actions after the alarm

The first measure to be taken after the alarm is communicated is to shelter indoors: the indication is to stay in homes with doors and windows closed, with the ventilation or air conditioning systems turned off. All this for a maximum time limit reasonably placed at two days. The objective of the measure is to avoid inhalation and external radiation deriving from the passage of the radioactive cloud and from the re-suspension of the radioactive material deposited on the ground. The effectiveness of the measure depends on the type of buildings in which you are sheltering and on the duration of the release (the shorter the duration, the more effective the measure). During the period of shelter indoors, the whole population is invited to keep informed about the current radiological situation, on the behaviors and actions to be adopted, by tuning into radio stations and television channels, or by accessing institutional websites. In the most affected areas, the blocking of locally produced food and feed (vegetables, fruit, meat, milk) and the blocking of road traffic. You will receive them from the Civil Protection, the Prefectures, the Regions and the Ministry of Health communications on the start time of the measure of the shelter indoors, updates on the alarm situation also with the establishment of a green number, specific instructions for schools and how to guaranteeing the basic needs of frail people and people with disabilities.

The rush to the bunker. The refuges in Italy

In recent months, the market for bunker it underwent a sharp rise, a symptom of widespread panic that the renewed Russian threats show no sign of mitigating. You can find all kinds, from the smallest to real ones luxury homes underground. A solution for very wealthy people who do not represent the majority of the population at risk. In Italy there are historic shelters built over the decades for royal families, politicians and dictators. Lazio and Campania are the two most supplied territories: from the air-raid shelter of Villa Ada in Rome dating back to 1940 to the last bunker of the Duce in the heart of the capital under Palazzo Venezia, where Benito Mussolini lived, with 80 square meters of space and reinforced concrete walls more than 2 meters thick. A decidedly larger second with 475 square meters is in the park of Villa Torlonia, also in Rome, at an altitude of 33 meters below sea level. Moving 45 km from the capital.

Lazio, Campania, Piedmont

In Naples then there are several anti-aircraft shelters that in the Neapolitan city were almost all obtained in pre-existing structures. The two largest in San Gregorio Armeno and the Quartieri Spagnoli were born as ancient Roman aqueducts and were then used in contemporary times as air-raid shelters. Going up to the North we find the Breda bunkers, anti-aircraft shelters from 1942 used by the Air Force Section of Breda and located throughout the eastern sector of the North Park of Milano. Also in the Lombard capital there is Refuge 87 in via Bodio, and other storage rooms near the Central Station in via Gioia and in via Cesare Battisti. Another famous bunker is located at Torinounder Piazza Risorgimento: it can accommodate up to 1,150 people. Climbing even higher, in theUpper Val di Non of Trentino will meet the huge Gamper Bunkerin the heart of Mount Corn, built by Mussolini in 1940 to prevent the German invasion.

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The iodine pills

Another important phase of the emergency will be that of the distribution of iodine pills. Among the radioactive substances that can be emitted in the event of a serious nuclear accident is it Iodine 131, 131I. It also happened at Chernobyl in 1986 when radioactive isotopes were released into the atmosphere, including iodine 131: absorbed by the thyroid carries a high risk of the onset of tumors. The prophylaxis recommended by doctors is expected in terms of distribution also from the same plan of the Italian government is therefore to intervene with iodine pills (clearly not radioactive) and more precisely with including potassium iodide. They will serve to prevent the absorption of the radioactive one by the thyroid and thus prevent the disease. «The risk of induction of radioactive iodine thyroid cancer is strongly dependent on age at the time of exposure; more precisely, the age group 0-17 years is the one at greatest risk of harmful effects. This risk is significantly reduced in adults and it tends to cancel itself out over 40 years of age ”, explains the government plan. And again: “Iodoprophylaxis is an effective intervention measure for the protection of the thyroid, inhibiting or reducing the absorption of radioactive iodine, in sensitive groups of the population, to prevent deterministic effects (cell death, severe cellular dysfunctionetc.) and stochastic (neoplasms, hereditary diseases, mutation of somatic or reproductive cells, etc.)”. The optimal period of iodine administration recommended by experts it is less than 24 hours before and up to two hours after the expected start of exposure. “It is still reasonable to administer stable iodine up to eight hours after the estimated start of exposure.”

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The rush to iodine and the risks of an arbitrary intake

In countries such as Belgium, France and Switzerland the iodine pills in recent months they have become one of the assets to be aspired to at any cost. The demand in pharmacies has skyrocketed, in a climate of psychosis that is dangerous, among other things, even for health itself. “Taking iodine in a reckless way can cause serious damage to health, especially to the thyroid gland”, explained the president of the Federation of the Orders of Italian Pharmacists a few weeks ago. Andrea Mandelli. «In Italy the race is not as crazy as it is abroad but the indiscriminate and unconscious use of these products is not recommended, both for preventive purposes, for which there is no evidence of efficacy, and for therapeutic purposesContinues the expert. Experts explain that in Italy there is no therapeutic indication for the use of potassium iodide, so much so that iodine tablets are preparations that pharmacists make on request. The situation is different abroad: in Europe, in countries where there are nuclear power plants such as Belgium and the Netherlands, citizens have access to an alert system connected to mobile phones and when needed they are invited to collect iodine tablets free of charge from the pharmacy and take them.

When can the emergency be considered over?

After providing indications on all stages of the alarm, the anti-nuclear plan also establishes the signal for the end of the emergency. The cessation of the threat will be communicated to the population through the Department’s website and social channels together with all media and the Department’s Contact Center.

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