BRIT families have been urged to stockpile supplies while the government should distribute radiation-fighting iodine tablets to households, defence experts have warned.

Amid soaring tensions with Russia, British army veterans and academics on disaster response have warned that the UK is woefully unprepared for tackling any form of Russian strike, whether nuclear, high-speed missile, or cyberattack.

Experts have called for iodine tablets to be distributed to British householdsCredit: Getty
Finland has joined-up disaster response programmes involving various groupsCredit: nato
The notorious Protect and Survive leaflet issued in 1980

It comes as the US has stockpiled radiation pills as part of what the government called long-standing efforts to prepare for potential health impacts from national security threats.

Biden’s administration bought $290million (£260m) of the drug Nplate, which is designed to treat blood cell injuries following a radiological or nuclear emergency.

And Russian Security Council deputy secretary Alexander Venediktov warned on Thursday that there would be a “guaranteed escalation to World War Three” if Ukraine joined Nato.

Meanwhile, pharmacies in Finland ran out of iodine pills on Wednesday, a day after the country’s health ministry recommended that households each buy a single dose in case of a radiation emergency.


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Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometre border with Russia, has long had one of the most comprehensive disaster response systems of any country in the world.

After the Nordic state lost more than 90,000 people during the Second World War, the country’s authorities vowed to have processes in place to protect it from any future all-out assault.

Every building over 1,200 square metres has to have an underground shelter, while regular three-week training exercises involving the police, fire department and medical services take place to plan for a joined-up response to a hypothetical attack.

Professor Andrew Futter, Professor of International Politics at the University of Leicester, told The Sun Online: “If it was politically feasible, it would be a good idea to have people trained up, similar to the disaster preparedness projects in Finland.

“This would give us an idea of how society would function in the event of a disaster which disrupts our food and energy supplies.”

Defence expert Edward Lucas also pointed to Finland’s national emergency preparedness programmes.

“They know what to do in a crisis,” he told The Sun Online.

British Army veteran Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Crawford added: “We can learn lessons from the Finns and others. We can start planning how we might follow the others in terms of training personnel from essential services. There may well be a plan already.

“Local authorities will have civil defence plans.”

During the Cold War, a number of various strategies were in place to prepare for a potential attack, involving national and local authorities, as well as government information programs.

General Sir Richard Shirreff told The Sun Online: “We should take that nuclear threat very seriously – but we should not in any way blink.

“But if we are promising massive retaliation in some way or other, you have to prepare for the worst case, and the worst case is being at war with Russia.

“That means a fundamental change of mindset in Nato countries.

“What we are missing is that recognition that we could find ourselves at war with Russia if there is a nuclear release. That is going to have profound implications for our society and our country.

“We need to build up and generate capabilities in our armed forces which have been sadly thrown away by successive governments since the early 2000s.”

He added: “We might not want this war, but this war might want us.

“This is about insurance. The way to avoid a potential war with Russia is to be ready for it, and we are not ready for it.”

“The UK doesn’t have a comprehensive civil defence plan,” Professor Futter warned. “We are reliant on our nuclear deterrent.”

He went on: “The leaflets of the 1970s and 80s have gone, people wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Genuine civil defence preparedness is so expensive and it is difficult to plan for such an event. The UK government largely gave up in the 1970s as it was unworkable.”

Taras Young, author of the books “Nuclear War in the UK” and “Apocalypse Ready”, told The Sun Online: “We are likely far less prepared than we used to be.

“During the Cold War, we had the Central Office of Information (COI) – effectively the government’s publicity agency – which produced leaflets and public information films.”

The UK doesn’t have a comprehensive civil defence planProfessor Andrew FutterUniversity Of Leicester

Since the COI was closed in 2011, much of the work of informing the public has been farmed out to advertisement agencies and this, Young claims, has resulted in a “lower level of preparedness”.

He explained: “We had different booklets ready to go in the case of escalation.”

Following the first Soviet hydrogen bomb test, in 1957 the government published its leaflet ‘The Hydrogen Bomb’.

Another leaflet in 1965 was designed to tell British families how to survive a nuclear blast.

The most famous government leaflet, ‘Protect and Survive’, was originally produced in the 1970s, although it was leaked in 1980.

It was set to prepare the British public for a nuclear apocalypse, but it was roundly mocked for some of the advice it gave, including on the BBC sitcom The Young Ones.

Professor Futter added: “We need to genuinely inform people, but sending out leaflets similar to Protect and Survive could make people panic and trigger food shortages and looting.”

Edward Lucas urged the government to distribute iodine tablets to every household in Britain, similar to schemes trialled in the US and Finland.

And he warned that the UK is “woefully unprepared” for any kind of conflict, either with Russia or another similar-sized power.

“We should be handing out iodine pills to Brits,” he said.

Most of the UK's Cold War-era nuclear bunkers have been sold off
Most of the UK’s Cold War-era nuclear bunkers have been sold offCredit: Neil Hope
Britain's Type-45 Destroyers would likely be our first line of defence
Britain’s Type-45 Destroyers would likely be our first line of defenceCredit: Reuters
Armed forces around the world undergo radiation disaster training
Armed forces around the world undergo radiation disaster trainingCredit: AFP – Getty

However, Professor Futter warned that such a scheme could be a long way off.

“In terms of iodine tablets, I would be very surprised if we had the stocks,” he said.

“But even if the tablets were useful, what if we didn’t have the staff to distribute them?”

Beyond logistics, the big challenge facing the UK government is the lack of physical infrastructure left from the Cold War.

“The government ought to be planning more joined-up thinking,” Young said, warning that we may be looking at a “reboot of the Cold War”.

He went on: “At the end of the Cold War, the government sold off most of its network of bunkers and dismantled the BT emergency phone systems.

“Had we kept those, we would likely be in a much better position now.

“We don’t know what successive governments have done since then, but I would assume there isn’t much in place.”

Professor Futter added: “There will be continuity of government plans and a few bunkers left over from the Cold War, but this is about protecting key officials, not the general public.

“It may be time to brush off our Cold War civil defence plans.

Lucas also called for the reopening of residual bunkers in the UK left over from the Cold War.


Lt Col Crawford, whose latest book Tank Commander is out now, stated that our armed forces are now far smaller than they were.

“Our standing army is due to reduce to just 72,500 in the next 18 months,” he said.

“That’s the smallest it’s been since Napoleonic times.”

In the event of a Russian missile strike, Lt Col Crawford says, our main deterrent is our Trident-armed nuclear subs.

“We have no anti-ballistic missile defence system,” he said. “We do have six type-45 air defence Destroyer warships, the best that you will find in the world.

“One in the Thames could probably protect the UK from an attack by conventional missiles or aircraft.”

Young said: “Education is key. The government needs to educate people on the threats that exist.

“Nuclear war isn’t survivable. Ordinary people need a plan on where they would go in the event of a strike, and gather basic supplies, possibly putting together a nuclear survival kit containing iodine pills.

As well as the danger of a potential strike, Lucas warned of the dangers of a different form of hybrid warfare, such as a cyberattack on key UK infrastructure.

“We must be vigilant against any signs of Russian sabotage,” Lucas said. “A major cyberattack could bring down the National Grid. There would be riots within days.”

Although Lucas stressed – as did all the experts – that the likelihood of an all-out nuclear attack on the UK by Russia remains unbelievably small, he warned against complacency, and called for an “increase in our general disaster preparedness”.

He added: “Every home should have basic supplies stockpiled. We are also so reliant on our mobile phones, so we need to think of backup plans in case they die.”