AUGUSTA – Gov. Angus King said Thursday that posting National Guard troops at Maine Yankee would do little to bolster security at the closed nuclear power plant.
The governor also said he is becoming increasingly concerned about the state being saddled with new defense responsibilities and costs related to terrorism and threats of attacks.
Meanwhile, a federal ban on flying near nuclear power plants was extended to include Maine Yankee on Thursday.
The Federal Aviation Administration ban on flying within 11 miles of nuclear sites expires next Wednesday. It affects general aviation flights, usually small private planes, but not commercial or air charter flights.
The ban followed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s new terrorism alert.
The addition of the Wiscasset plant and other nonoperational nuclear facilities to the no-fly ban followed a Thursday morning meeting between U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and FAA, according to Dave Lackey, Snowe’s spokesman.
Some local officials near the coastal Maine Yankee site have expressed concern about the vulnerability of more than 1,400 highly radioactive spent fuel rod assemblies being stored at the site.
Snowe wanted to make sure that the same protections would be in place for Maine Yankee as other sites around the country, Lackey said.
The ban would affect the Wiscasset municipal airport, which is a couple of miles from Maine Yankee.
Responding to questions about tightening security at nuclear power plants in response to the latest terrorist alert, Gov. King said Thursday the state has received little beyond “vague reassurances” from the federal government that it will provide costs of what is traditionally a federal responsibility.A Maine Yankee spokesman declined to discuss security at the Wiscasset site. Without going into great detail, King said security has been beefed up with armed guards, concrete barriers and blocked-off roads near the site. He noted that the plant’s level of risk is lower than that of operating plants.
“Based upon the risks, and the provisions that are in place, I do not believe it would significantly increase the security of that facility to add National Guard troops,” King said.
King said his decision not to send troops to Maine Yankee is not based on costs the state would incur. But he said the state has been absorbing increased expenses to provide defense from terrorist threats while getting no compensation from the federal government.
King said there’s a strong consensus among governors that states should receive funding for new defense costs.
“I am not being unpatriotic. I and all of the other governors are perfectly willing to do all that we can to assist,” he said.
But he said the list of facilities that need new protection or extra services, such as airports, nuclear plants and health labs, is growing longer.
King said he had no figures for what the state’s cost is so far, saying it is not a “huge” sum. But the city of Portland alone has spent $400,000 in added security-related expenses, he said.
The governor acknowledged the federal government has promised Maine compensation for added security at airports in the state.
King acknowledged that some sites in the state other than Maine Yankee are getting added security, but he would not identify them.
On Monday, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told governors to consider deploying more police at nuclear power plants, but left it up to the states to decide on use of guardsmen, the White House said.
King said he knew of no other governor who has posted guards at the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant.