The Air Force is asking Congress to protect nuclear launch sites from encroachment by wind turbines


WASHINGTON (AP) — The vast fields of the Air Force Underground nuclear missile silos They are rarely bothered by more than an occasional wandering cow or Floating spy balloon. But the service is now asking Congress for help in confronting another unexpected threat: towering wind turbines, which are growing in number, size and closer to sites every year.

Silos share space on vast private farmland with turbines. While the nuclear launch sites are virtually undetectable—merely small, rectangular plots of land marked only by antennas, a chain-link fence, and a 110,000-ton (100,000 metric tons) flat concrete silo door— Turbine They are hundreds of feet tall, and have long, sweeping blades that hold parts so large and so long that they dwarf the 18-wheel flatbed trucks that transport them to new locations.

As the population in the surrounding areas increased, so did the energy needs, as did the number and size of turbines. It’s a boon for farmers and landowners, who can lease space on their land to support military needs and wind energy companies.

But growth makes it dangerous for military helicopter crews. When an alarm is raised at a location, UH-1 Huey aircrews fly low and fast, often with security teams on board.

“When you think about wind turbines, even wind turbine fields, they will extend for miles,” said Sgt. Chase Rose, a UH-1 Huey flight engineer at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. “It’s monstrous, and then you have giant blades rotating on it as well. Not only is that a physical obstacle, but those turbines, they create hazards like turbulence as well. That can be a very dangerous thing for us to fly in. So it’s a very complicated situation, when you have to You have to deal with those.”

So the Air Force is asking Congress to pass legislation to create a two-nautical-mile buffer zone around each site. The legislation has support from wind energy advocates, but they caution against a one-size-fits-all approach. There are hundreds of underground silos spread across the United States, in Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

“The wind energy industry recognizes that the mission of a nuclear missile silo is unique,” ​​said Jason Ryan, spokesman for the American Clean Energy Association, which worked with the Air Force and lawmakers to draft the buffer zone language. “However, one-size-fits-all setbacks are meaningless for other (DoD) missions or assets, as site- and mission-specific assessments are essential to ensuring military readiness.”

Jo D. Black, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy, which operates some towers near Malmstrom’s launch sites, would not say whether the company supports the buffer zone, but said: “We have always been, and continue to be, supportive of the critical role played by the Malmstrom Air Force.” . Al-Qaeda is in the security of our nation.”

“NorthWestern Energy and the U.S. Air Force have a long and successful history of cooperation that supports our national security missions and the provision of safe and reliable energy services,” Black said.

The setback language is included in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024. The language is not in the House version of the bill and would need to be negotiated in conference.

Under the legislation, existing towers will not be affected, unless the company decides to renovate the existing tower to make it taller.

This may remain a problem for air crews. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Lawton, who oversees all 450 missile silo sites, previously said some modern turbines have towers as high as 650 feet, or nearly 200 meters, “which is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.” . this year. Some rotor diameters, the width of the circle swept by the rotor blades, can be up to 367 feet (112 m), which is the distance from home plate to the left field pole at the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium.

Of the 450 sites, 46 are “seriously” encroached upon, which the Air Force knows is more than half the roads leading to the launch site are closed due to obstructions.

But the service acknowledges the difficult situation you are in. Farmers who have let it use their land for decades benefit from income from turbine leases, and the service doesn’t want to appear to be backing away from green energy alternatives.

The Air Force continues to “support renewable energy efforts to include wind turbines, and we continue to work with energy industry partners to ensure the nation’s green energy needs are met,” said Air Force Maj. Victoria Hite, a spokeswoman for FE Warren Air Force. Base in Wyoming. However, she said, “crawler turbines limit safe transit for helicopters and nuclear security operations.”

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