March 28, 2002
AOPA is taking exception to a report issued Monday by Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey claiming gaps in nuclear reactor security. Among the claims in the report is a statement that "96% of all U.S. reactors were designed without regard for the potential for impact from even a small aircraft." Markey also wants all nuclear sites ringed with anti-aircraft weapons.
"The report misleads the public by telling only part of the story," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Reactor containment vessels are so massive that a GA aircraft can't penetrate them. Period."
In a letter sent today to Rep. Markey, Boyer reiterated that small general aviation aircraft do not pose a threat to nuclear power reactors. All nuclear reactor containment buildings are built like bunkers with at least 12 feet of solid steel and reinforced concrete between the reactor and the outside world. Containment vessels weigh more than 500 tons ( see graphic). A general aviation aircraft, constructed primarily of lightweight aluminum, would crumple upon hitting such a massive object. "Imagine hitting a granite cliff," said Boyer.
In fact, an engineering study by Sandia National Laboratories concluded that even an aircraft as large as a Boeing 767 would not likely penetrate any of the reactor containment vessels in the United States.
Boyer also took issue with Markey's demand for anti-aircraft batteries inside the United States.
"The risk of killing innocent civilians, both in the air and on the ground, far outweighs the minimal 'protection' this scheme purports to offer," said Boyer.
"But the greater danger of this report is that by focusing on particular areas, we're diverting attention and resources from true public protection. As long as a terrorist can enter the country, we're not safe. Government efforts must be concentrated on developing the intelligence information and methods for identifying and stopping any potential terrorist before they can get their hands on anything that could harm the American public."
[Graphic courtesy of the Nuclear Energy Institute.]
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