EDGEMONT | An area where miners once dug for uranium to supply nuclear bombs may become a sanctuary in case nuclear bombs fall or some other disaster threatens humanity.

California businessman Robert Vicino’s company, Vivos, is offering 575 former military bunkers in southwestern South Dakota for lease as doomsday shelters. The price is $25,000 upfront and then $1,000 per year. The costs to outfit the empty bunkers will be borne by the tenants.

Vicino, speaking Thursday to the Journal by phone from San Diego, said interest has been high since he began accepting inquiries in October.

“We have an abundance of reservations, but we don’t put out specific numbers,” Vicino said. “Today alone, I think we’ve had 50 requests.”

The bunkers are remnants of the former Black Hills Ordnance Depot, which was operated as a munitions storage and maintenance facility by the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1967. Its operation overlapped with a uranium-mining boom in the Edgemont area from the 1950s to the '70s, when most of the uranium was used in Cold War nuclear weapons.

The bunkers sprawl across an 18-square-mile plain about 10 miles southwest of Edgemont and are covered with earth, making them look a bit like igloos and inspiring the name “Igloo” for the short-lived community that was built to house the depot’s employees and their families.

The bunker complex is now privately owned, and much of it is controlled by a South Dakota-based corporation, S&S Land and Cattle Co., which has a partner corporation called Fort Igloo Bunkers LLC. Officers of those corporations referred the Journal’s interview requests to Vicino, who said his company has obtained a lease agreement allowing it to sublet the bunkers.

Besides the 575 bunkers being offered up by Vivos, roughly 225 more are controlled by other private owners and are not part of the project.

The bunkers have been empty for decades while serving mostly as windbreaks for cattle that graze around them, but Vicino sees them as perfect places to endure the end times. His company already offers doomsday shelter communities in Indiana and Germany, according to the company website, and sells turnkey shelters for installation anywhere.

At the Igloo site, each bunker is 13 feet tall at its highest interior point, and nearly 27 feet wide at the floor and either 60 or 80 feet long, which means the floor space ranges from about 1,600 to 2,100 square feet.

Vicino calls the Igloo site Vivos xPoint and describes it as the largest survival community on Earth, with room for 5,000 inhabitants. The typical customer, he said, is likely to be concerned about electromagnetic pulse weapons that could wipe out the electrical grid, the outbreak of a third world war, catastrophic natural phenomena such as asteroid strikes, and other potential disasters. Customers are also likely to have modest financial resources, according to Vicino.

“Everybody thinks we’re catering to the elite, but we’re not,” Vicino said. “The elite have their own shelters that cost tens of millions of dollars each.”

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Vicino said he was inspired to create doomsday shelters about 35 years ago.

“I had an inspiration, from God as far as I’m concerned, that I needed to build underground shelters for thousands of people to survive something that was coming our way.”

Vicino said he was running a manufacturing company back then and did not act on the idea until decades later, when he was selling high-end villas to co-owners under arrangements described as fractional ownership.

In 2007, he finally got serious about the idea. Now, at "about 60" years of age, he is devoted full time to providing what he calls “life assurance” against doomsday scenarios.

For those who might accuse him of preying on and profiting from the apocalyptic fears of paranoid people, Vicino has a response. 

“We’re just providing a solution to people who are looking for it,” he said. “They can have better peace of mind knowing they have a solution if any of this happens.”

Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal.