No-fly zone expands over Ignalina nuclear plant

  • 2001-10-18
  • Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - The Soviet military once looked upon the Ignalina nuclear power plant as a last-ditch defense against invasion from the West.

If NATO forces used Lithuania as a path to Moscow, the Kremlin planned to blow the plant up - destroying the attacking forces with both the initial blast and the radioactive fallout.

Ignalina's potential as a weapon as well as a source of power is spawning fears that terrorists could employ a plan similar to the Soviets, only this time using a plane to start a deadly meltdown that could destroy the surrounding countryside.

Immediately after hijacked commercial jets razed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon in the United States Sept. 11, Conservative MP Vytautas Landsbergis called for additional measures to safeguard Ignalina.

Currently a no-fly zone is in effect over Ignalina. All aircraft are banned from coming within a five kilometer radius or below a six kilometer ceiling above the plant.

But the current security measures aren't enough for some politicians, who think additional military protection is a necessity.

"I've been speaking about the need to increase security at Ignalina in the Parliament for 10 years. I say that the Lithuanian army needs Stinger (missiles to protect the plant). Other MPs say that Stingers are too expensive," said Nikolaj Medvedev, a Social Democrat and member of the parliamentary national security committee. "My answer is as follows: Stingers are expensive, but Lithuania is more expensive."

Plant specialists concede it is almost impossible to predict what would happen if a plane crashed into Ignalina.

But new security measures are in the works.

Lithuania will request Belarus set up a no-fly zone in an area adjacent to Ignalina, said Linas Linkevicius, Lithuanian national defense minister, since the plant is just 3 kilometers from the border between the two countries.

"Our neighbors also should be concerned about the safety of Ignalina," he said.

Linkevicius added that security around the plant was stepped up after the Sept. 11 attacks, airspace control was increased and a program was drawn up to extend the no-fly zone to 10 kilometers in all directions from the plant.

That plan will also raise the ceiling of the no-fly zone to an altitude of 30 kilometers and involve additional radar facilities for monitoring air traffic.

Air traffic is currently monitored at the radar facility in Karmelava near Kaunas, Lithuania. The equipment and personnel there are reportedly able to determine even slight deviations from flight paths and to take measures to prevent unscheduled events.

However, civilian planes are regularly spotted near the plant on the Belarusian side of the border - a significant concern for plant security.