Fission Stories #127: Helicopter Attack on Point Beach?

January 29, 2013
Dave Lochbaum
Former contributor

At 10 pm on November 6, 1987, security guards at the Point Beach nuclear plant in Wisconsin spotted helicopters coming in low and fast. The helicopters zipped by so close that they rattled windows in the plant.

The security guards contacted the Federal Aviation Administration at nearby Austin Straubel Field in Green Bay. The airspace over nuclear power plants is restricted and no aircraft were authorized to fly over at any altitude that evening. At 11:19 pm, helicopters buzzed the plant again. After a third fly-by at 11:50pm, the operators declared an Unusual Event, the second lowest of four emergency classifications designated by the NRC.

The aerial intruders turned out to be Army helicopters from Volk Field near Sparta, Wisconsin. According to a National Guard spokesman, the charts used by the helicopter pilots did not show restricted airspace over the plant. In any event, the National Guard would not be flying any more unannounced training exercises over the plant.

A plant spokesman stated that security measures were taken in response to the first over flight, but declined to specify the nature of those actions

It’s reasonable to presume they included the old nuclear attack safety drill, “duck and cover.”

Our Takeaway

It took three unexplained aerial intrusions before operators declared an Unusual Event.

Okay, the first one was obviously an isolated case.

And the second must have been an amazing coincidence.

And the third emptied the jar of lame excuses, forcing the operators to declare an emergency.

Does this mean it would take three reactor melt downs for the operators at Point Beach to declare an emergency?

Not likely – Point Beach only has two reactors.


“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.