Steel Bunkers, Iodine Pills, and Canned Food: Fear of the Nuclear Apocalypse Is Back

The prepper community has grown quickly through the strife of the last few years, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only accelerated that trend.
As people frantically search to ground themselves in uncertain times, they’re turning to a place most people wouldn’t normally describe as “calming”—doomsday prepping.
As people frantically search to ground themselves in uncertain times, they’re turning to a place most people wouldn’t normally describe as “calming”—doomsday prepping. Photos via  NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images and Wikimedia Commons.

For the first time in five years, Gary Lynch’s company is so busy that he needed to leave his office to go help his employees in the field. 

His company sells steel bunkers and bomb shelters. 

The general manager of the Texas-based Rising S Company had to help install a 1,600-square-foot model, which goes for a touch over $300,000. He told VICE News during his lunch break at the local Taco Bell that his company received over 700 inquiries recently, in a time frame where they typically would have received about 10. 


“On Thursday morning, when we started seeing the nuclear threats, the phones started ringing immediately,” said Lynch. Some of the people who called were people who were already considering the need for a backyard bunker, and the Ukraine conflict is what finally pushed them over the edge. A good chunk of the inquiries, Lynch said, were pretty frantic. 

“There's the people who don't know (what to ask); they've never looked at (bomb shelters) before,” said Lynch. “They're the ones that are calling and asking, ‘Will this protect me from nuclear fallout?’, and we have to tell them ‘Well, no, it's not going to protect you from that, from a direct hit from a bomb.’”

The threat of the Russian invasion of Ukraine becoming a conflict between the world’s two biggest military superpowers has many people thinking about what has felt unthinkable for a generation: a nuclear war. And for some who are frantically searching to ground themselves in uncertain times, they’re turning to something most people wouldn’t normally describe as “calming”—doomsday prepping.

Europeans are stocking up on iodine tablets (a Google Trends search shows near-vertical growth on that term in late February), and YouTube is suddenly full of “experts” giving advice on how to prepare for the end of the world. Those in the “doomsday prepper” community say their community has been growing for years, with climate change, a global pandemic, and the general “end times” vibe of the last several years. But it has accelerated in the past weeks. 


John Ramey, the founder of the prepper website The Prepared and a former Obama White House adviser, said the community has doubled in the last few years and pointed to a pre-pandemic FEMA study that showed the number of American citizens preparing for some sort of disaster increased from 3.8 percent in 2017 to 5.2 percent in 2019.  

Ramey said most of the folks who’ve been in the community for a long time aren’t the ones worked up. Neither Ramey nor Lynch said he thought nuclear war was imminent, but they’ve both been taking calls from people worried about it.

“The top search terms on our site have been war and nuclear-oriented things like iodine, nuclear, and even EMP,” said Ramey, referring to electrical magnetic pulse, which happens after a nuclear detonation. “So it's clear that this is on people's minds and that there's a group, a portion of people, that are riled up, and concerned about it.” 

Since Russian dictator Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last week and put his nuclear deterrent forces on “high alert”, the subreddit r/preppers has been inundated with “Questions from New Preppers.” On Facebook, people are reaching out to groups like “Prepping for Beginners” or “Doomsday Preppers Worldwide” with questions about what food to stock up on, how to make sure they have a supply of drinking water, and so on. 


“New here. I'm wondering if anyone has ideas for covering basement windows to help with fallout radiation,” reads one comment on Doomsday Preppers Worldwide. “Our basement is going to be our safest place if anything were to happen, but the windows worry me.”


One of the bunkers Rising S company sells. Photo provided by Gary Lynch.

VICE World News spoke to Scotty, a university student in Texas, who said he’s feeling pretty high anxiety about the Ukraine situation. When Putin warned of “consequences you have never seen” if any country interfered with his plans, Scotty decided to start prepping. The 25-year-old, who only gave his first name, went to Reddit's Prepper page to get some advice. Since then, he’s been slowly picking up items for the apocalypse during every trip to the store. 

“It's been on my mind for a while, but the invasion of Ukraine really set me off,” he said. “With the pandemic, the increase of severe natural disasters, and just general unrest throughout America and the world, it seems like not a bad idea to be semi-prepared for a variety of emergencies.”

“Especially when it feels like everything is out of my control, prepping makes me feel like I can control something.” 

He’s not the only one. 

Across the world—but especially in Europe–people are stocking up on iodine tablets, believed to protect from radiation poisoning. Finland has reported a strong increase in the sale of potassium iodine pills, and nearly 30,000 Belgians rushed to the pharmacy to get free tablets offered by the government. At the time of this writing on Amazon, if you type in “IO”, it will autofill to “iodine tablets for radiation.” 


“I know this sounds like absolutely surreal, crazy stuff, but there is a real sense of fear and we need to prepare,” a Brussels woman who stocked up on the pills told the Globe and Mail. “My friend went to five pharmacies to find the pills, couldn’t, and went on a waiting list for them.” 

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One of the new prepper questions on reddit. Photo via screenshot.

“Where to buy iodide pills?? Everywhere is out of stock,” one person wrote on Doomsday Preppers Worldwide. 

The urge to prepare has travelled as far as Canada’s West Coast, as Total Prepare on Vancouver Island—a company that typically outfits people for earthquakes and tsunamis—said they’re experiencing an increase in people purchasing their freeze-dried food. 

“It definitely was a noticeable change,” Cort Daigle of Total Prepare said. “Not like blowing-the-doors-off busy, but definitely you could sort of see the bump. It was definitely noticeable in metrics.”

Like everyone else in the industry, prepper content creators have been focused on the Ukrainian conflict. While a good portion offered up relatively rational possible outcomes—the grain supply being impacted because Ukraine and Russia supply a substantial portion of the world’s wheat—many others focused on the possibility of nuclear war. 


One YouTuber named southernprepper1 who has over 200,000 followers has been making videos all about how to handle nuclear fallout—"How to protect your animals after a Nuclear War" is one example. In a recent video, he said he's getting a lot of letters regarding "concern and fear in regards to nuclear weapons." 

"I don't want to panic you, but people are panicking," he said. "I can sense it in my emails, I can sense it in my phone calls, I can sense it with the desire to purchase things." 

"The purpose of this video is that I want you to have a plan by the end of the day. No panic, a plan. What would happen if nukes impacted the United States a limited amount. Am I at ground zero? Do I need to flee? Do I need to worry about fallout?" 

Ramey warned of “fear porn”, and if you spent any time on prepper forums in the last few weeks, you’d see that term popping up in discussions about influencers.

While that certainly exists in the community currently, Ramey, a longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is adamant it’s just a fringe minority. He said his community is working hard to break the prepper stereotype of a high-strung backwoods person burying gold in the backyard. He doesn’t believe the Ukraine conflict will result in nuclear war, and he’s happy to talk people off the ledge. 

"Prepping is a source of calm for people; it's a way to take control over their agency and feel like they can do something in a mad world,” said Ramey. "We don't want to scare people and rile people up. People don't want doom-scrolling because you can get that from TikTok and all the other shit.”

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.