Air Scares

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It may be hard to believe that folks out there still haven't figured out that private planes, small, slow and light as they are, aren't likely to do much damage in terrorist hands. Nonetheless, in Sunday's New York Times, reporter Marek Fuchs examined "The Case For A No-fly Zone" above the Indian Point nuclear plant, about 35 miles up the Hudson River from the city. Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, wrote to the Times that he was "extremely disappointed" by the article, calling it "irresponsible and potentially very harmful to the general aviation industry." (more) While not quite up to the Chicken-Little level of last Friday's Boston Globe editorial about "Terror From Small Planes," the NYT article notes that "a smaller aircraft packed with explosives can be a potent weapon," an observation attributed to a local anti-nuke advocate, which goes unchallenged. The article also reports that N.Y. Gov. George E. Pataki asked the Department of Homeland Security for a no-fly zone at the plant, and was denied. A spokesman for Homeland Security told Fuchs that significant steps have been taken to enhance security around nuclear plants, and there is no need for a no-fly zone. A current NOTAM advises pilots to avoid the airspace above or near nuclear plants, and not to circle or loiter in the area. Still, "the plant is widely considered to be a potential terrorist target," the article says, and the idea of small planes being free to fly nearby apparently makes some New Yorkers uneasy.

...Despite Expert Assurances Of Nuke Safety

Is there any reason New Yorkers shouldn't be worried about a terrorist crashing a GA airplane into Indian Point, thereby igniting a nuclear cataclysm? Well, the experts say it can't be done. A December 2002 study by the Nuclear Energy Institute concluded that even a direct hit by a 767 would not ignite a power plant's nuclear fuel. According to the American Nuclear Society: "Nuclear power plants are enclosed in containment buildings made of steel and reinforced concrete up to four feet thick. They are some of the strongest buildings built by man, and analysis has shown they can withstand a range of severe threats, including earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes ... and small aircraft crashes. (more)... [E]ven if attacked, [nuclear power plants] are highly likely to survive without a significant release of radioactive material." Last summer, AOPA commissioned an expert report to investigate the lingering fears about private planes vs. nukes. Their conclusions: "A GA aircraft could not penetrate the concrete containment vessel. An explosives-laden GA aircraft would not likely cause the release of radiation. A small aircraft attack on auxiliary plant buildings would not cause a safety failure. A GA aircraft could not ignite the Zirconium cladding on spent nuclear fuel." Although the Times article reported that "the [Indian Point] plant is widely considered to be a potential terrorist target," the American Nuclear Society says that "nuclear power plants are considered difficult, and therefore, unattractive, targets for a terrorist attack. Plus, even if attacked, the structures are highly likely to survive without a significant release of radioactive material." Feeling better yet, New Yorkers? Some of those that don't may take solace along with their government-supplied iodine pills.