STOCKHOLM • Scandinavia may not be right in the path of a future nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea, but given the latest threats between the two countries, the region is not taking any chances.
Last month, Norway's Nobel Peace Prize Committee handed a group dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons its award. Now, the Swedish government is looking into expanding its existing network of nuclear fallout shelters, according to news website The Local. A first proposal was included in a report released several weeks ago and followed a review of existing shelters earlier this year, Swedish officials confirmed on Friday, saying that the proposed changes were still under consideration by the government.
Sweden already has 65,000 shelters, which would provide space for up to seven million people, but that leaves an estimated three million inhabitants without protection.
Switzerland may have fewer citizens than Sweden, but it has still built about four times the number of nuclear shelters - easily enough for the country's entire population and then some.
In Sweden, the nuclear shelters are also supposed to protect the population from other hazards, like a biological weapons attack or more conventional warfare, as well.
Until recently, few Swedes knew the location of the closest nuclear shelter in their neighbourhood, but the government now offers an online map. Often located in publicly accessible buildings, such as schools or shopping centres, the shelters can usually also be used as storage sites or garages and are funded with taxpayers' money.
Number of nuclear shelters in Sweden
Number of people the shelters can accommodate, out of a population estimated at 10 million
In contrast, in Switzerland all houses above a certain size must include shelters in the basement, putting the financial burden on the citizens themselves. That rule was abolished in 2011 by the Swiss Parliament, but reintroduced months later, after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
Sweden stopped expanding its nuclear shelter network almost two decades ago. Then came Iran's nuclear programme, the Fukushima accident, North Korea's missile tests - and President Donald Trump.
Whereas confidence among Europeans that former president Barack Obama would "do the right thing regarding world affairs" ranged between 70 and 90 per cent in a number of surveyed nations during his term, those numbers plummeted after Mr Trump's inauguration and have only become worse ever since.
Only 7 per cent in Spain and 11 per cent in Germany now say they have confidence in Mr Trump.
Europeans are similarly worried that decades-long non-proliferation efforts could be dismantled virtually overnight, leading to a new arms race. In 2009, the Obama administration negotiated a treaty with Russia in which both countries agreed to cap the number of deployed warheads.
Mr Trump reportedly called the agreement a bad deal in his first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year, although administration officials have since backtracked.
Sweden's new shelter locations indicate that at least some of the concerns are connected to Russia. One of the regions where most new shelters are expected to be constructed in the coming years is the island of Gotland, where military defences were recently expanded with the declared aim of stopping a possible Russian invasion.