Security tightened at nuclear plants
U.S. bars small planes overhead; deputies at Point Beach,
By LARRY SANDLER
Article courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Oct. 30, 2001
The federal government Tuesday banned small aircraft
from flying over nuclear power plants for one week, and
sheriff's deputies started patrolling Wisconsin's two
atomic plants, after a warning that terrorists could strike
A senior military commander also said the Pentagon is
weighing the use of Patriot missile batteries and other
air-defense weapons as a last-ditch protection against
terrorist attacks on nuclear plants and other key facilities.
Until Nov. 7, private aircraft are forbidden from flying
within 10 nautical miles of 87 nuclear plants and laboratories
- including Wisconsin's Point Beach and Kewaunee power
plants - unless the planes are more than 18,000 feet up,
the Federal Aviation Administration ruled.
The ban doesn't affect airliners, which generally fly
higher, and air traffic controllers can exempt law enforcement
and medical flights, the FAA said.
At the same time, the management of the Point Beach and
Kewaunee plants announced that it had called in local
law enforcement officers to bolster security at those
plants and four others that it runs in the Midwest.
And Army Gen. William Kernan, commander-in-chief of the
U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., told reporters
that defense officials are looking at air defense systems
to protect "nuclear power plants and some of the critical
infrastructure that supports national and state governments."
Kernan, who is responsible for the land and maritime
defense of the continental United States, declined to
say whether air defense batteries already had been deployed
around the country.
The FAA didn't say why the flight restrictions would
last just one week. A spokesman at FAA headquarters in
Washington, D.C., did not immediately return a call seeking
However, both the flight ban and the security boost followed
warnings Monday from Attorney General John Ashcroft and
the FBI that terrorists could attack the United States
as early as this week, in retaliation for American attacks
on terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan. Tom Ridge, director
of homeland security, reiterated that warning Tuesday.
The federal officials said the warnings were based on
"credible" threats but did not say those threats were
aimed at nuclear power plants or any other specific targets.
A similar message came from a spokeswoman for Nuclear
Management Co., which runs the Point Beach plant in Manitowoc
County and the Kewaunee plant in Kewaunee County.
"We're not aware of any specific or credible threat against
nuclear plants," company spokeswoman Maureen Brown said.
"These steps were taken as a precaution."
The local law enforcement officers protecting the plants
are supplementing Nuclear Management's own force of armed
guards, Brown said.
Two Kewaunee County sheriff's deputies are now assigned
to the Kewaunee plant at all times, a Kewaunee County
dispatcher said. The Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department
is also working with the Point Beach plant's security
staff, sheriff's Lt. John Seim said, but he declined to
Since terrorists forced airliners to crash into the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, nuclear power
plants and small aircraft have been subject to new security
Nuclear Management has erected barriers around the Kewaunee
and Point Beach plants, started searching employees and
eliminated guided tours, Brown said. This month, the Coast
Guard also added patrols in Lake Michigan near the two
Although all flights were grounded after the terrorist
attacks, restrictions on small aircraft have lasted long
after airliners have returned to the skies.
The FAA only recently lifted a ban on small aircraft
that fly by sight, rather than by instruments, in the
air over 27 major cities. But flights over New York City,
Washington and Boston remain restricted, including flights
over World Series games at Yankee Stadium. Blimps, news
helicopters and banner-towing planes still can't fly over
30 major cities.
Those restrictions have annoyed private pilots. The Experimental
Aircraft Association in Oshkosh and the Aircraft Owners
and Pilots Association have lobbied heavily to ease the
rules, arguing that small planes are not a threat to national
But even before Tuesday's order, the FAA was sensitive
about planes' flying too close to nuclear power plants.
Last week, the St. Petersburg Times reported, air traffic
controllers alerted the Air Force that a small plane was
off course and approaching a nuclear power plant in tiny
Crystal River, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico coast. Within
minutes, fighter jets intercepted the plane and ordered
the pilot to land.
But when Citrus County sheriff's deputies boarded the
plane, they didn't find any terrorists or bombs - just
two men and 65 pounds of marijuana. The pilot and passenger
were arrested and charged with drug trafficking.