The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said this week that the military can shoot down aircraft threatening nuclear power plants in the United States. But NRC Chairman Nils Diaz also said that general aviation aircraft don't pose a "significant threat to a nuclear power plant" because of their relatively small size, "even if they are loaded with explosives."
An NRC spokesman told AOPA that, according to agency studies, even an aircraft as large as a Boeing 737 couldn't do enough damage to put the public at risk, no matter what part of the facility it hit.
And that just confirms the conclusions of the report " Nuclear Security - General Aviation is not a Threat," that AOPA commissioned in 2002.
On the issue of shooting down an aircraft, the military has actually had that authority since shortly after the 9/11 attacks. However, the NRC just recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) establishing notification protocols and immediate actions that could be taken if an aircraft threatens one of the nation's 103 nuclear power plants. The memorandum is classified, but a NORAD spokesman confirmed that it means NORAD will provide air defense for the plants, up to and including shooting down aircraft.
A standing notam advises pilots to "avoid the airspace above, or in proximity to, sites such as nuclear power plants," and to not loiter or circle near these facilities.
March 17, 2005