- From Scott D. Portzline
- Jeff - Here is confirmation of what I stated on your
program months ago...
- National Guard troops are patrolling Three Mile Island
and Pennsylvania's other operating nuclear power plants with unloaded weapons,
giving residents a false sense of security and leaving troops unprotected,
a state lawmaker said yesterday.
- "That's stupid; that's really dumb," said Middletown
Mayor Robert G. Reid, whose borough is in the shadow of the TMI cooling
"They look awesome standing there with their M-16s and now you find
out the weapons aren't loaded. Well, they're just like civilians,"
While government officials would not confirm whether or not the Guard members'
M-16s were loaded, House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver, said a number
of troops have complained that they were only allowed to carry bullets
in belt clips and were not armed with artillery.
Veon, whose Beaver County district includes a power plant, said he since
has lobbied Gov. Mark S. Schweiker and state military brass, without success,
to allow the troops to carry loaded guns. He also has sought to outfit
troops with surface-to-air missiles that could shoot down an airplane heading
for a nuclear power plant.
"The time it would take to [load a weapon] is precious seconds when
you're facing a terrorist or a criminal or an attack, and that's common
sense, let alone basic principles of military training and basic principles
of police work," Veon said.
TMI officials were aware that National Guard troops' weapons were unloaded,
said company spokesman Ralph DeSantis. But, he added, the National Guard
troops and state police are not the nuclear power plant's main security.
"The National Guard is a backup to our security guards," DeSantis
said, adding that TMI security guards carry loaded weapons. "Our officers
have the primary security. The National Guard and state police are backup
to TMI's own security force."
Guard members, who do not have powers of arrest, said last week that they
had been banned from carrying loaded pistols while on patrol at Pennsylvania
airports following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Instead, the soldiers
carried ammunition on their belts.
Reid said he believes National Guard troops should be armed with loaded
"The terrorists are not coming with empty weapons; they're coming
shooting." he said. "The terrorists will have the upper hand."
In New York, Guard members at airports also were not allowed to carry loaded
weapons. Guard members in other states, such as Florida, however, carried
loaded M-16s at airports, but without a bullet in the firing chamber.
Guard spokesman John Maietta said he would not discuss the reasons behind
the troops' specific arming orders, but said such orders are "arrived
at after exhaustive analysis of the threat to our soldiers and the public
and also an analysis of the mission we're being asked to carry out."
Dave Hixson, a spokesman for Schweiker, said that "if the threat assessment
changes, then there may be changes in the rules of engagement and the overall
security posture at the plants."
Officials declined to say how many Guard members are deployed to nuclear
The troops are supporting armed units of state police and private security
officers patrolling the plants.
Still, keeping the troops from carrying loaded weapons puts Pennsylvania
behind some states in nuclear power plant security, said Loren Thompson,
a defense analyst for the Lexington Institute policy think tank in Arlington,
"I think it's scandalous that the National Guard would be deployed
to defend a sensitive facility without weapons and artillery," Thompson
said. "It just shows how half-baked our plans of national security
About 160 National Guard soldiers left their stations at 16 commercial
airports in Pennsylvania last month after nearly eight months of duty.
Troops and state police were deployed to nuclear plants in November and
are to stay through Dec. 31.